Renal cortical thick ascending limbs of Henle's loop (CAL) and distal convoluted tubules (DCT) represent sites at which much of the final regulation of urinary ionic composition, particularly that of calcium, is accomplished in both humans and in rodents. We sought in the present work to develop an efficient means for isolating parathyroid hormone (PTH)-sensitive cells from these nephron segments and to grow them in primary culture. [CAL+DCT] cells were isolated from mouse kidney using an antiserum against the Tamm-Horsfall glycoprotein which, in the renal cortex, is produced exclusively by these cells. A second antibody conjugated to coated ferrous particles permitted magnetic separation of [CAL+DCT] cells from Tamm-Horsfall negative renal cortical cells. Approximately 3 X 10(6) cells per kidney with a trypan blue exclusion greater than 94% were isolated by these procedures. Experiments were performed to characterize the cells after 7 to 10 days in primary culture. PTH and isoproterenol, but neither calcitonin nor vasopressin, stimulated cyclic AMP (cAMP) formation in [CAL+DCT] cells, consistent with the pattern of hormone-activated cAMP synthesis found in freshly isolated CAL and DCT segments. Alkaline phosphatase, an enzyme present dominantly in proximal tubule brush border membranes, was virtually absent from [CAL+DCT] cells but was present in Tamm-Horsfall negative cells. Similarly, Na-glucose cotransport was absent in [CAL+DCT] cells but present in Tamm-Horsfall negative renal cortical cells. Finally, transport-related oxygen consumption in [CAL+DCT] cells was blocked by bumetanide and by chlorothiazide, diuretics that inhibit sodium transport in CAL and DCT nephron segments. These results demonstrate that PTH-sensitive [CAL+DCT] cells can be isolated in relatively high yield and viability and grown in cell culture. Primary cultures of these cells exhibit a phenotype appropriate to their site of origin in the nephron.