In an effort to shed light upon the nature of the colloid cyst, the immunohistochemical properties of 21 examples of this lesion were compared with those of other neuraxial cysts and choroid plexus epithelium. The neuraxial cysts included the following: eight Rathke's cleft cysts, 25 pituitaries containing follicular cysts of the pars intermedia, and four enterogenous cysts. Fifteen examples of normal choroid plexus and 12 choroid plexus papillomas were studied as well. These lesions were examined for localization of the following antigens: cytokeratins, epithelial membrane antigen, secretory component, carcinoembryonic antigen, prealbumin, vimentin, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), S-100 protein, neuron-specific enolase, 68-kD neurofilament protein, chromogranin, serotonin, and lysozyme, and with Leu-7 monoclonal antibodies. Five colloid cysts were immunostained with monoclonal antibodies that were specific for Clara-cell antigens and surfactant, respectively. Sugar moieties were localized using Ulex europaeus I, and Ricinus communis agglutinin I lectins. All Rathke's cleft cysts and follicular cysts of the pars intermedia as well as three selected colloid cysts were examined for pituitary hormones. The epithelial cells of colloid and enterogenous cysts, as well as those lining follicular and Rathke's cleft cyst, showed uniformly strong reactivity for cytokeratins, epithelial membrane antigen, secretory component, and vimentin, and bound Ulex europaeus lectin. Occasional cells in colloid cysts were positive for Clara cell-specific antigens. Reaction for carcinoembryonic antigen was present on the apical surface of scattered cells of colloid, follicular, and Rathke's cleft cysts. Many cells of follicles in the pars intermedia as well as individual cells of five Rathke's cleft cysts were also immunoreactive for chromogranin, S-100 protein, GFAP, and pituitary hormones. Colloid and enterogenous cysts were negative for prealbumin, S-100 protein, GFAP, and neuron-specific enolase; in all but a few instances, they failed to bind Ricinus communis agglutinin. In contrast, normal choroid plexus and choroid plexus papillomas were positive for prealbumin, S-100 protein, neuron-specific enolase, cytokeratin, vimentin, and Ricinus communis agglutinin receptors; they lacked Ulex europaeus lectin, 56/66-kD cytokeratins, and epithelial membrane antigen. Unlike normal choroid plexus, choroid plexus papillomas were often GFAP-positive. All tissues studied were nonreactive for lysosome, serotonin, and neurofilament, and with Leu-7 antibodies. This study indicates that the immunophenotype of epithelium lining colloid cysts is similar to that of other cysts showing endodermal or ectodermal differentiation and to respiratory tract mucosa. Epithelium of colloid cysts is immunohistochemically different from that of normal or neoplastic choroid plexus. These findings indicate an endodermal rather than neuroepithelial nature for colloid cysts.