One representative of a number of severe lesions that occur outside the glomerular capillaries and involve podocytes is crescentic glomerulonephritis. The question of whether the crescent-forming cells are derived from glomerular epithelial cells or monocytes/macrophages is highly controversial and has not yet been clarified. To investigate the pathophysiology of podocytes in crescentic glomerulonephritis, we attempted to establish methods for culturing cells confirmed to be derived from podocytes, focusing particularly on the relationship between podocytes and macrophages. Nonadherent cells of unknown origin that grew from normal rat isolated glomerular cultures increased in number, reaching a total of 3.5 x 10(5)/ml on Day 11. They showed several characteristics of macrophages, the expression of specific antigens and enzymes, morphology, and production of H2O2. They expressed Fx1A but lacked the expressions of Thy1.1 or factor VIII. A morphologic kinetic study on Days 3 to 11 of culture showed that the cells with foot processes on the glomerular basement membrane changed into macrophagic cells (MC) and migrated from the glomeruli. Immunofluorescence double staining indicated that the cells that migrated from the glomerular surface on Day 8 were both anti-podocalyxin- and ED-1-positive. Furthermore, immunoelectron microscopy revealed that the ED-1-positive cells were located on the glomerular basement membrane. Pretreatment with anti-macrophages and -Thy1.1 antibodies, both with complement, did not reduce the number of MC, whereas pretreatment with puromycin aminonucleoside predominantly reduced the number of MC. A predominant decrease in the number of glomerular macrophages by gamma-irradiation did not result in a reduction of the number of MC. MC derived from glomerular cultures of bone marrow chimeric rats expressed the la antigen originated from recipient, which indicates that MC is not derived from bone marrow cells. Macrophage colony-stimulating factor accelerated the speed of the change into MC, and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor dramatically enhanced its degree with increase of cell number on Day 8. We concluded that podocytes change into MC in normal rat glomerular culture and that the change is enhanced by colony-stimulating factors. The results provide a completely new insight into the origin of crescent-forming cells.