Actin is associated with motility, cell morphology, and cell-substrate adhesion. The molecular probe NBD phallacidin, which reacts with filamentous actin, was used to study the distribution of actin filaments in the corneal and conjunctival epithelium, stroma, and endothelium. Frozen sections of human fetal eyes from 8 weeks to 40 weeks of gestation were reacted with NBD phallacidin. Pathologic tissues included keratoplasty specimens from patients with hereditary posterior polymorphous corneal dystrophy (PPMD) and surgically excised tissues removed for treatment of epithelial down-growth. Normal human cornea was used as a control. Immunofluorescent staining disclosed actin filament distribution in corneal epithelium as early as 9-10 weeks of gestation. Staining increased with maturation until term. Adult human corneal epithelium showed more pronounced staining of the surface layers. Stromal staining was more extensive in earlier stages of gestation and decreased in later stages of gestation, after 20-21 weeks. In pathologic corneas with posterior polymorphous dystrophy, there was localization of actin, as well as keratin, in the abnormal epithelial-like layers lining the posterior cornea. In epithelial downgrowth, actin and keratin were demonstrated in multilayered squamous epithelium on the anterior iris surface. Actin appears to be involved in migration of corneal epithelial and endothelial cells.