Long-term cultivation of human corneal endothelial cells (HCEC) was optimized with respect to different components of the culture system: 25 different nutrient media, different sera, 6 mitogens and various substrates were tested in their ability to influence clonal growth and morphology of HCEC. F99, a 1:1 mixture of the two media M199 and Ham's F12, was the most effective basal medium in promoting clonal growth of HCEC. Among various sera, human serum and fetal bovine serum showed optimal growth promoting activities in combination with F99, whereas newborn bovine serum (NBS) was by far superior for the development of a typically corneal endothelial morphology. Crude fibroblast growth factor (FGF), or alternatively endothelial cell growth supplement, was absolutely essential for clonal growth of HCEC at low serum concentrations, for example 5% NBS. Formation of a monolayer with a morphology similar to corneal endothelium in vivo was observed only on culture dishes coated with basal membrane components such as collagen type IV, laminin, or fibronectin. The most pronounced effect on morphologic appearance was obtained by culturing the cells on the extracellular matrix (ECM) produced by bovine corneal endothelial cells. Moreover, ECM could substitute for crude FGF in clonal growth assays.