Human cells were transfected with a mouse vimentin cDNA expression vector containing the hormone response element of mouse mammary tumor virus. The distribution of mouse vimentin after induction with dexamethasone was examined by indirect immunofluorescence with antivimentin antibodies specific for either mouse or human vimentin. In stably transfected HeLa cells, which contain vimentin filaments, addition of dexamethasone resulted in the initial appearance of mouse vimentin in discrete areas, usually perinuclear, that always corresponded to areas of the human filament network with the most intense fluorescence. Within 20 h after addition of dexamethasone, the mouse and human vimentin immunofluorescence patterns were identical. However, in stably transfected MCF-7 cells, which lack vimentin filaments, induction of mouse vimentin synthesis resulted in assembly of vimentin filaments throughout the cytoplasm without any obvious local concentrations. Transient expression experiments with SW-13 cell subclones that either lack or contain endogenous vimentin filaments yielded similar results to those obtained with MCF-7 and HeLa transfectants, respectively. Further experiments with HeLa transfectants were conducted to follow the fate of the mouse protein after synthesis had dropped after withdrawal of dexamethasone. The mouse vimentin-specific fluorescence was initially lost from peripheral areas of the cells while the last detectable mouse vimentin always corresponded to the human filament network with the most intense fluorescence. These studies are consistent with a uniform assembly of vimentin filaments throughout the cytoplasm and suggest that previous observations of polarized or vectorial assembly from a perinuclear area to more peripheral areas in cells may be attributable to the nonuniformly distributed appearance of vimentin filaments in immunofluorescence microscopy.