The objectives of the present study were to determine the cytological features of isolated follicular dendritic cells (FDC), which distinguish them from other leukocytes or dendritic cell types. Consequently, we have developed methods for the fixation, peroxidase cytochemistry, and visualization of FDC, which are applicable to cytological evaluations by Nomarski optics, scanning, and transmission electron microscopy. A functionally supported identification of FDC in vitro was made possible by utilizing, in conjunction with the dendritic morphology, the cytochemically identifiable antigen, horseradish peroxidase (HRP), and the known capacity of FDC to sequester immune complexes (i.e. HRP-anti-HRP) on their plasma membranes. The observations showed that FDC constitute a relatively pleomorphic, nonphagocytic group, distinct from other dendritic type cells such as lymphoid dendritic cells, Langerhans cells, and interdigitating cells (LDC, LC, and IDC), as well as typical leukocytes. Morphologically distinct FDC were identified as cells either with filiform dendrites or with "beaded" dendrites. FDC possessed a single or sometimes a double, lymphocyte-size cell body, which contained an irregular, lobated nucleus, Golgi apparatus, numerous small vesicles, and some mitochondria. Mitochondria were not abundant in the dendritic processes. Filiform dendrites tended to branch and anastomose near the cell body and form a radiating "sunburst"-like pattern. On the average, dendrites measured 15-20 microns in length and 0.1-0.3 micron in diameter. Occasional dendrites were extremely elongated, reached several hundred microns in length, and terminated in an enlargement measuring nearly a micron in diameter. Other filiform dendrites usually had a club-shaped terminal enlargement. The microspheres of "beaded" dendrites ranged between 0.3 and 0.6 micron in diameter. The dendritic processes were also shown to have a highly ordered pattern of immune complex attachment on their surface, suggestive of a periodic arrangement of receptor sites.