The clear, chromophilic, and chromophobe types of human renal cell carcinoma have been defined as distinct morphological entities and can be clearly separated by differences of ultrastructural appearance, cytoskeletal architecture, enzyme synthesis, and cytogenetic aberrations. In this report, the cytomorphological aspects of these tumor types are compared in vitro, showing that essential ultrastructural and cytoskeletal characteristics of each tumor type are expressed even after prolonged in vitro cultivation. The pattern of intermediate filament proteins of each tumor type was preserved in vitro, permitting the separation of exclusively cytokeratin-positive chromophobe tumor cells from clear and chromophilic tumor cells with a co-expression of vimentin and cytokeratins. In vitro, the chromophobe tumor cells continued to exhibit abundant cytoplasmatic microvesicles and sparsely distributed "studded" vesicles, which are known to be characteristic features of this tumor type in vivo. This observation confirmed the structural similarity of the chromophobe cell to the 'intercalated cell' of the cortical collecting duct and provided further evidence for the histogenetic derivation of this tumor subtype from the collecting duct system.