In the present study, a stereologic approach was utilized to quantitatively assess morphological changes during the differentiation of LLC-PK1 cells into an epithelial membrane. This renal epithelial cell line has been described to undergo morphological changes during differentiation and maturation from subconfluent culture to a confluent epithelial layer. An increase in the number of apical microvilli, interpreted as an areal increase in this membrane domain was reported. This morphological differentiation was found to be accompanied by an increase in the expression of apical Na(+)-dependent hexose transport and the activities of certain brush border enzymes. Since no data are available that quantify the morphologic changes during LLC-PK1 differentiation, a quantitative morphologic-stereologic-investigation was performed for an early (6 days) and a late (12 days) state of confluence of LLC-PK1 monolayer cultures. The following morphological parameters were determined by light and electron microscopic morphometry: volume fractions (Vv) of nuclei, mitochondria, and lysosomes, and surface densities (Sv) of the apical and basolateral cell membrane domains. For the apical membrane surface, the microvillous fraction has been measured separately. Since the stereologic approach used in the present study allows the determination of absolute cell volumes, the absolute measures of organelle volumes (V) and membrane surfaces (S) per average cell can be calculated from volume and surface densities. Although no changes in cell density were found for 6 and 12 day old LLC-PK1 monolayers, indicating ceased cell proliferation due to contact inhibition, remarkable changes were found concerning the absolute cell volume and apical membrane surface. The observed increase in the apical cell surface was exclusively due to the enlarged microvillous surface fraction. This finding is in good agreement with the increased number of Na(+)-dependent hexose transporters as well as with the increased expression of apical membrane marker enzymes observed during the differentiation of LLC-PK1 monolayers.