Immunoreactivity for epithelial membrane antigen (EMA) was evaluated in exfoliated benign and malignant cells using immunoperoxidase and immunogold techniques. In addition, protein A-colloidal gold was used for ultrastructural localization of EMA. Our results suggest that EMA is useful in distinguishing adenocarcinoma cells (strongly positive) from reactive mesothelial cells (negative or weakly positive), lymphoid cells (negative), and a variety of nonepithelial neoplasms (negative) with which they may be confused. Exfoliated cells from two mesotheliomas were also strongly positive for EMA. Ultrastructurally, EMA was distributed in a dense, even, linear pattern along the cell membrane and microvillous surface processes of adenocarcinoma cells. A similar but sparse distribution pattern was observed in reactive mesothelial cells. These observations reflect the increased sensitivity and higher resolution of the immunogold technique.