We have established three independent ovine mammary epithelial cell lines which arose from primary cultures of ovine mammary epithelial cells by spontaneous immortalization. One of them, OMEC II, was characterised in greater detail. The cells grow rapidly on plastic dishes in medium containing 10% FCS without any requirement for additional growth factors or hormones. Immunofluorescence staining of this cell line showed expression of cytokeratin (46 kDa) and ZO-1, a tight-junction associated protein, but negative immunostaining for an anti-vimentin antibody. In confluent cell monolayers 'domes' became visible indicating the development of a polarised phenotype and the ability of directed secretion. When grown in collagen gels typical ducts with end-buds were observed. Treatment with lactogenic hormones increased the frequency of dome formation, but no expression of beta-lactoglobulin was found. To our knowledge this is the first report on an ovine mammary epithelial cell line. ((C) Elsevier, Paris).