The LIM 1863 colon carcinoma cell line grows in the form of morphologically and functionally organized organoids. Cells are arranged around a central lumen with a brush border and nuclei are polarized to the periphery. The organoids contain 3 morphological cell types (columnar, goblet and caveolated cells). By agar cloning it has been possible to isolate 29 subclones of the cell line, all of which display the same phenotype and percentage of morphological cell types as the parent line. Cell-sorting experiments showed that precursor cells of LIM 1863 cultures could express either mucin (large-intestinal-mucus antigen) or a brush-border enzyme (sucrase-isomaltase). Proliferating cells were predominantly found near the outer periphery of organoids with cell maturation towards the internal lumen. Dead cells were continuously shed from the organoids but terminal non-cycling cells were not observed within the organoids. The organoid structure was calcium-dependent and promoted cell survival. Suspension cultures of disaggregated cells could be grown in medium containing less than 100 microM calcium. No decrease in differentiation antigens was observed in the low-calcium cultures, although polarization of the cells was lost. The organoid cultures formed by this cell line represent a unique in vitro model for colonic crypt growth and organization.