Using in vivo bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) labeling, a tubular cell population (label-retaining tubular cells [LRTC]) was identified recently in normal adult kidneys, which contributes actively to the regeneration process of the kidney after injury. Here, these LRTC are characterized in vitro. The LRTC population was isolated from BrdU-treated rat kidney by FACS. Both LRTC and non-LRTC underwent proliferation and maintained an epithelial phenotype in the presence of tubulogenic growth factors such as EGF, TGF-α, IGF-I, and hepatocyte growth factor. It is interesting that LRTC also proliferated without epithelial markers expression in the presence of soluble factors derived from an embryonic kidney metanephric mesenchyme cell line. The type of extracellular matrix strongly influenced the phenotype of LRTC. Furthermore, in three-dimensional collagen gel culture, LRTC formed tubule-like or tubulocystic structures in response to growth factors (hepatocyte growth factor and fibroblast growth factor) that are known to induce kidney cell tubulogenesis in vitro and/or participate in renal regeneration in vivo. In contrast, non-LRTC did not form these structures. When transplanted into the metanephric kidney, LRTC but not non-LRTC were integrated into epithelial components of nephron, including the proximal tubular cells and the ureteric bud. They also differentiated into fibroblast-like cells. Collectively, these findings suggest that LRTC are an adult kidney tubular cell population that shows phenotypic plasticity, tubulogenic capacity, and integration capability into the developing kidney.