Background: The asialoglycoprotein receptor (ASGPR) is a C lectin which binds and endocytoses serum glycoproteins. In humans, the ASGPR is shown mainly to occur in hepatocytes, but does occur extrahepatically in thyroid, in small and large intestines, and in the testis. In the kidney, there has been evidence both for and against its existence in mesangial cells. Methods: Standard light microscopy examination of renal tissue stained with an antibody against the ASGPR was performed. The mRNA expression for the ASGPR H1 and H2 subunits in primary human renal proximal tubular epithelial cells (RPTEC), in the human proximal tubular epithelial cell line HK2, and in human renal cortex was investigated using reverse-transcribed nested polymerase chain reaction. ASGPR protein expression as well as ligand binding and uptake were also examined using confocal microscopy and flow cytometry (fluorescence-activated cell sorting). Results: Light microscopy of paraffin renal biopsy sections stained with a polyclonal antibody against the ASGPR showed proximal tubular epithelial cell staining of the cytoplasm and particularly in the basolateral region. Renal cortex and RPTEC specifically have mRNA for both H1 and H2 subunits of the ASGPR, but HK2 only expresses mRNA for H1. Using a monoclonal antibody, the presence of the ASGPR in RPTEC was shown by fluorescence-activated cell sorting and immunofluorescent staining. Specific binding and uptake of fluorescein isothiocyanate labelled asialofetuin which is a specific ASGPR ligand was also demonstrated in RPTEC. Conclusions: Primary renal proximal tubular epithelial cells have a functional ASGPR, consisting of the H1 and H2 subunits, that is capable of specific ligand binding and uptake.