Stromal cells isolated from proliferative human endometrium undergo morphologic and biochemical changes when exposed to a mixture of ovarian hormones, acquiring characteristics of decidual cells. In addition to the previously reported progestin-induced secretion of prolactin (PRL) by explants of human proliferative endometrium, and of PRL and laminin by stromal cells in culture, "in vitro" induction of several other decidual cell products was demonstrated in the present study, using cultures of stromal cells isolated from proliferative endometrium. Incubation of stromal cells with a mixture of estradiol, medroxyprogesterone acetate and relaxin, at a concentration reported to yield maximal stimulation of PRL production, resulted in changes from elongated to rounder cells, approx. 90% of which showed immunostaining for PRL under these conditions. Immunocytochemical procedures were carried out on cytospins of decidual cells isolated from decidual tissue adherent to fetal membranes collected at delivery (positive controls), and on stromal cells cultured in Lab-Tek chamber-slides, in the absence (negative controls) or in the presence of added hormones. Antibodies to 24K (a heat-shock protein also named HRP27), desmin (present in intermediate filaments), p29 (a protein associated with the estrogen receptor), and PP12 (an insulin growth factor-1 binding protein), did not react with stromal cells isolated from proliferative endometrium but showed immunostaining of the rounder cells obtained after hormonal treatment when tested with the peroxidase-labeled second antibody complex. In another series of similar experiments, in which the same decidualization end-points were employed, changes in 24K, desmin and PP12 expression were obtained by adding to the insulin-containing medium PRL instead of the hormonal mixture, a finding suggesting sequential steps during the decidualization process.