The factors controlling neurogenesis and differentiation of olfactory receptor cells in adults are poorly understood, although it is often stated that these cells undergo continual turnover after a predetermined lifespan. An interesting model in which to study mechanisms which control olfactory receptor neurogenesis and cell turnover is the tiger salamander, since basal cell mitosis varies with epithelial thickness and location in the nasal cavity. This paper presents a quantitative light-microscopic study of the different cell types within the ventral olfactory epithelium of the tiger salamander using a computer-assisted morphometric analysis of 2 micron sections. The results show that the surface density of olfactory vesicles remained constant throughout most of the epithelium and was independent of nasal cavity location, epithelial thickness and the total number of nuclei per unit epithelial surface area. Histological classification of nuclei into different cell types indicated that the increase in total cell number with epithelial thickness was mainly due to an increase in the number of immature receptor cells since the number of supporting cells varied only slightly and the numbers of basal cells and mature receptor cells remained constant except in the thinnest, most caudally located epithelium. It is concluded that the rate of maturation of receptor cells may be limited by an optimal surface density of olfactory vesicles. That is, when this density reaches 4.5 x 10(4) vesicles per mm2 there is a physical or chemical mechanism which prevents the final maturation of newly developing receptor cells, leading to their accumulation. This mechanism may also account for the variations in basal cell mitosis in this species.