A procedure adapted from that described by Mitchison and Kirschner [Nature 312:232-237, 1984] was used to isolate centrosomes from human lymphoid cells. High yields of homogeneous centrosomes (60% of the theoretical total, assuming one centrosome per cell) were obtained. Centrosomes were isolated as pairs of centrioles, plus their associated pericentriolar material. Ultrastructural investigation revealed: 1) a link between both centrioles in a centrosome formed by the gathering in of a unique bundle of thin filaments surrounding each centriole; 2) a stereotypic organization of the pericentriolar material, including a rim of constant width at the proximal end of each centriole and a disc of nine satellite arms organized according to a ninefold symmetry at the distal end and; 3) an axial hub in the lumen of each centriole at the distal end surrounded by some ill-defined material. The total protein content was 2 to 3 X 10(-2) pg per isolated centrosome, a figure that suggests that the preparations were close to homogeneity. The protein composition was complex but specific, showing proteins ranging from 180 to 300 kD, one prominent band at 130 kD, and a group of proteins between 50 and 65 kD. Actin was also present in centrosome preparations. Functional studies demonstrated that the isolated centrosomes were competent to nucleate microtubules in vitro from purified tubulin in conditions in which spontaneous assembly could not occur. They were also very effective at inducing cleavage when microinjected into unfertilized Xenopus eggs.