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Each pigmented epithelial cell bears circumferential actin bundles at its apical level when the pigmented epithelium is established in eyes in situ or in culture in vitro. Well-differentiated pigmented epithelia in culture were treated with a 50% glycerol solution containing 0.1 M KCl, 5 mM EDTA, and 10 mM sodium phosphate buffer, pH 7.2, for 24 h or more at 4 degrees C. When the glycerinated epithelium was transferred to the ATP solution, each cell constituting the epithelium began to contract. The epithelium was cleaved into many cell groups as a result of contraction of each cell. The periphery of each cell group was lifted to form a cup or vesicle and eventually detached from the substratum. However, those cells that had not adhered tightly and not formed a monolayer epithelium with typical polygonal cellular pattern contracted independently as observed in the glycerinated fibroblasts. Contraction of the glycerinated pigmented epithelial cells was inhibited by N-ethylmaleimide but not by cytochalasin B. ITP and UTP also effected the contraction of the glycerinated cells, but GTP and ADP did not. Ca2+ was not required. This contractile model of pigmented epithelium provides a useful experimental system for analyzing the function of actin in cellular morphogenesis.