Cell culture conditions were devised that selectively supported growth of 13 or 14 gestation day F344 rat ureteric bud, the renal collecting duct anlagen. These same conditions also inhibited the growth of metanephrogenic mesenchyme, precursor of structures proximal to the duct. Isolated buds were cultured in Ham's F12 medium supplemented with epidermal growth factor, selenium, insulin, hydrocortisone, prostaglandin E1, transferrin, and triiodothyronine; fetal bovine serum (1%) was required for continuous propagation. Cultured cells were epithelial in morphology and formed domes. By electron microscopy, many structural characteristics of highly differentiated cells were evident: numerous mitochondria, Golgi apparatus, extensive endoplasmic reticulum, an occasional cilium, intracytoplasmic filaments, polarized formation of microvilli, and gap junctions. Histochemistry revealed considerable functional differentiation as well. Cultured bud cells, adult collecting duct, and fetal duct anlagen were positive for acid phosphatase, membrane-localized ATPase, and nonspecific esterase. Bud cells and fetal duct anlagen expressed high levels of gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase activity while adult collecting duct exhibited slight activity. In addition, immunocytochemical observation of intermediate filament expression revealed the presence of epithelial cytokeratins but absence of mesenchymal vimentin in cultured bud cells and fetal and adult collecting ducts. These results indicate that the culture conditions described can maintain the partially differentiated fetal collecting duct anlagen in a state consistent with its embryonal derivation, and therefore may be useful in culture studies of renal differentiation.