We studied the expression of the various cytokeratin (CK) polypeptides and vimentin in tissues of the human eye by applying immunocytochemical procedures using a panel of monoclonal antibodies as well as by performing biochemical analyses of microdissected tissues. Adult corneal epithelium was found to contain significant amounts of the cornea-specific CKs nos. 3 and 12 as well as CK no. 5, and several additional minor CK components. Among these last CKs, no. 19 was found to exhibit an irregular mosaic-like staining pattern in the peripheral zone of the corneal epithelium, while having a predominantly basal distribution in the limbal epithelium. Both the fetal corneal epithelium and the conjunctival epithelium were uniformly positive for CK no. 19. In the ciliary epithelium, co-expression of CKs nos. 8 and 18 and vimentin was detected, whereas in the retinal pigment epithelium, CKs nos. 8 and 18 were dominant. The present data illustrate the remarkable diversity and complexity of CK-polypeptide expression in the human eye, whose significance with respect to histogenetic and functional aspects is, as yet, only partially clear. The unusual distribution of CK no. 19 in different zones of the corneal epithelium may be related to the specific topography of corneal stem cells. The occurrence of the expression of simple-epithelium CKs in the ciliary and pigment epithelium demonstrates that, despite their neuroectodermal derivation, these are true epithelia.