The purpose of this study was to identify and characterize visceral epithelial cells (VECs) of renal glomeruli in culture. Such cells have been described variably as regular, polygonal cells showing a high rate of replication and a cobblestone-like appearance at confluence and also as irregular, arborized and often multinucleated cells showing a very limited proliferative capacity. We examined early outgrowths from the glomeruli by immunofluorescence microscopy using antibodies specific for VECs (anti-podocalyxin(1A), anti-pp44 and 5-1-6), for endothelial cells (anti-von Willebrand factor (vWF) and RECA-1) and for mesangial cells (anti-Thy-1). 1A and anti-pp44 reacted with several types of irregular, arborized cells, but never with regular, polygonal cells. 5-1-6 did not react with any of the cells. Neither the 1A- nor anti-pp44-positive cells (1A/pp44(+) cells) stained with anti-vWF, RECA-1 or anti-Thy-1. However, all the 1A/pp44(+) cells expressed desmin and vimentin but not cytokeratin. These results show that the 1A/pp44(+) cells are derived from VECs, supporting the idea that most polygonal cells in glomerular cultures are of parietal epithelial origin.