Epithelial cell proliferation was studied in the normal colonic mucosa of 5-week-old Sprague-Dawley rats, comparing [3H]thymidine incorporation (group 1) with two newer proliferation markers, bromodeoxyuridine (group 2) and proliferating cell nuclear antigen (group 3). Microautoradiography (group 1) or immunoperoxidase assays (groups 2 and 3) were carried out. Cells were counted for positive reaction and position along 50 colonic crypt columns/animal. No significant differences were found in number or distribution of labeled epithelial cells in proliferative compartments in crypt columns of normal colonic mucosa; labeled cells were mainly in the lower 60% of colonic crypts. Thus, in this model, bromodeoxyuridine and proliferating cell nuclear antigens were comparable to [3H]thymidine as reliable markers of proliferating epithelial cells in rat colon.