The morphologic characteristics of ductlike tubular complexes were studied in human acute pancreatitis. Pancreatic specimens were obtained from 10 patients who were operated on for acute pancreatitis. Immunocytochemistry for pancreatic enzymes, keratin, actin, and carcinoembryonic antigen were combined with lectin-binding studies and ultrastructural investigations. Irrespective of clinical onset and duration of pancreatitis, tubular complexes situated in the vicinity of fat necrosis were observed in all patients. Intermediate forms of ductlike structures were characterized by widening of acinar lumina, decreased height of acinar cells, and large autophagic vacuoles. These structures bound all of the lectins employed and retained their immunoreactivity to secretory proteins. Typical tubular complexes were composed of low cuboidal or flattened cells surrounding a large acinar lumen. They revealed a loss for pancreatic enzymes, a reduced lectin-binding for L-fucose and N-acetylgalactosamine, and an increase for cytoskeletal proteins (keratin, actin). It is concluded that tubular complexes in human acute pancreatitis represent degenerating acinar cells which lost their secretory and membrane characteristics.