The present studies report erythropoietin (Ep) production in primary cultures of a human renal carcinoma from a patient with erythrocytosis that has been serially transplanted to BALB/c nude mice. The levels of erythropoietin in the culture media were estimated using the exhypoxic polycythemic mouse assay (EHPCMA), fetal mouse liver erythroid colony- forming technique (FMLC), and a radioimmunoassay (RIA). The spent culture media of the exponentially growing cells contained less than 10 mU/ml of Ep measured by RIA. However, after the cells became confluent, Ep levels (RIA) in the spent media showed a marked increase to approximately 300 mU/ml. Ep levels estimated using the FMLC and EHPCMA were approximately 2/3 and 1/10, respectively, of those measured by RIA. Rabbit antiserum to highly purified human urinary Ep (70,400 U/mg protein) was utilized for immunocytochemical (peroxidase-antiperoxidase method) localization of Ep in the cultured cells. Very few of the cells in exponential growth exhibited Ep-like immunoreactivity, whereas intense Ep-like immunoreactivity was observed in the cytoplasm of the cells maintained in culture for a prolonged period after reaching confluency. The most intense staining was observed in some of the cells forming domes. The domes developed after the cells reached confluency, and their numbers increased with increasing time in confluent culture, in parallel with the increase in Ep levels in the spent media. This primary cell culture system of a renal cell carcinoma maintained in nude mice, which produces immunologically and biologically active Ep, may provide a useful model for studies of the mechanism of Ep production.