The cytoskeletal elements of normal (in situ) and cultured human retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) were studied by a variety of immunocytochemical techniques. Primary antibodies to vimentin and cytokeratins were used. Positive immunoreactivity for vimentin was obtained with in situ and cultured material. The pattern of reactivity obtained with antisera and monoclonals to cytokeratins was more complex. Cytokeratin immunoreactivity could be demonstrated in situ and in cultured cells. The pattern of cytokeratin expression was similar to that of simple or glandular epithelia. A monoclonal antibody that specifically recognizes cytokeratin 18 identified a population of cultured RPE cells that had particularly well-defined filamentous networks within their cytoplasm. Freshly isolated RPE was cytokeratin 18 negative by immunofluorescence, but upon culture cytokeratin 18 positive cells were identifiable. Cytokeratin 18 positive cells were identified in all RPE cultures (other than early primaries), regardless of passage number, age or sex of the donor. In post-confluent cultures cytokeratin 18 cells were identified growing over cytokeratin 18 negative cells, suggesting an association of cytokeratin 18 immunoreactivity with cell proliferation. Immunofluorescence studies of retinal scar tissue from two individuals revealed the presence of numerous cytokeratin 18 positive cells. These findings indicate that RPE cells can be identified by their cytokeratin immunoreactivity and that the overt expression of cytokeratin 18 may be associated with proliferation of human RPE both in vitro and in vivo.