Primary cultures of human epithelial cells from normal conjunctiva were developed and characterized to determine whether they retained epithelial characteristics. Conjunctival explants were obtained from the upper fornix of healthy donors and cultured in supplemented DMEM/F-12 medium for 5 days. The epithelial outgrowth was maintained for an additional 10 days. Primary cultures were then processed for light microscopy, transmission and scanning electron microscopy (TEM, SEM), and immunocytochemistry. They exhibited typical features of conjunctival epithelium on light microscopy (polygonal morphology, intimate cohesion, production of mucins), TEM (abundant desmosomes, keratin bundles, granules, microvilli), SEM (polygonal shape, microvilli, intimate cohesion), and immunocytochemistry (positivity for the receptor of epidermal growth factor, desmosomal proteins, and cytokeratins). In conclusion, primary cultures developed from normal human conjunctiva maintained the epithelial characteristics in vitro. Because the conjunctiva is a major component of the anterior ocular surface, we propose this in vitro system as suitable for physiopathologic and toxicologic studies.