Confocal laser scanning microscopy, image processing, and volume visualization were used to characterize the 3-D distribution of lectin receptors, lipid probes, and actin cytoskeleton in epithelial cells. Small intestine-like cells were grown on glass or filter supports and apically labelled with different fluorescent lipid and lectin probes. The restriction of the probes by the tight junctions was studied in living cells. Series of confocal x-y sections were transferred to an image processing system for analysis. The fluorescence intensity within a specified area of all x-y sections was plotted as a function of the vertical position of the sections. The curve inclination was used to describe the degree of restriction to the probes. It was found that lectins were more confined to the apical part than the lipids, which showed varying degree of redistribution to the basolateral membrane. Volume rendering, and specifically animated sequences with varying viewpoint and opacity mapping, were used to visualize the structure of actin cytoskeleton and distribution of lipid and lectin probes. In toad bladder epithelial cells, actin was labelled before and after treatment with the antidiuretic hormone vasopressin. The hormone-induced redistribution of actin in the apical and lateral portion of the cells was measured on x-z scanned images. Ratios of apical-to-lateral intensity were calculated. It was found that the decrease in the ratios after vasopressin treatment was around 30%. The decrease was due to loss of actin apically. This is supposed to facilitate apical fusion of vesicles containing the water-channel forming proteins, being important in water homeostasis.