Polarized epithelial cells perform many critical physiological functions in multicellular organisms. Recent embryological studies of the conversion of nonpolar mesenchymal cells to epithelium in the developing mouse kidney have provided vital information on the molecular mechanisms that initiate epithelial cell polarization. To become polar, the cells first attach to the basement membrane that is produced by the developing epithelial cells themselves. Of the basement membrane components, laminin has a key role in the development of epithelial cell polarity. Laminin is a multidomain glycoprotein composed of three subunits: A, B1, and B2. One binding site for epithelial cells is found in the carboxyl-terminal part of the A chain of laminin. Antibodies reacting with this part of laminin inhibit polarization of developing epithelial cells in organ cultures of embryonic kidneys. Expression studies also suggest that the A chain of laminin is important for epithelial cell polarization; the A chain appears when the cells begin to polarize, whereas B chains are expressed at an earlier stage of development. The studies of conversion of mesenchyme to epithelium suggest that morphogenesis can be controlled by differential expression of laminin chains.