To produce anti-idiotypic antibodies against receptors for the neurohypophyseal hormone vasopressin, an anti-vasopressin monoclonal antibody with a ligand specificity similar to that of vasopressin receptors was employed for immunization. Three anti-idiotypic monoclonal antibodies were obtained which induced, like vasopressin, plasminogen activator production in the renal epithelial cell line LLC-PK1 (expressing V2-receptors). Induction of plasminogen activator synthesis by the anti-idiotypic antibodies could be inhibited by coincubation with a vasopressin antagonist. In a fashion similar to that of vasopressin itself, the anti-idiotypic antibodies induced receptor down-regulation. The anti-idiotypic antibodies were employed to visualize vasopressin receptors on LLC-PK1 and A7r5 (V1-receptor-expressing) smooth muscle cells by immunofluorescence. Antibody-mediated fluorescence was not observed in receptor-deficient mutant cell lines or vasopressin-receptor-down-regulated cells. Furthermore, these antibodies were used for immunohistochemical localization of vasopressin receptors in rat and bovine kidney preparations. In accordance with earlier physiological and biochemical observations, vasopressin receptors were detected predominantly in collecting ducts in cortex and medulla. On the cellular level, a differential staining pattern was observed.