To elucidate roles of protein kinase C (PKC) zeta in rabbit kidney, PKC zeta was cloned from a rabbit kidney cortex cDNA library. Sequencing revealed a 2113 m insert with an open reading frame encoding a protein of 591 amino acids. The predicted amino acid sequence is 93.7% identical with rat PKC zeta. In situ hybridization in rabbit kidney with a riboprobe generated from the cloned cDNA, showed PKC zeta mRNA is highly expressed in proximal tubule, thick limb, and collecting duct. No message was detected over glomerular cells. Immunohistochemical studies using a monoclonal antibody against PKC zeta confirmed this distribution with low expression in vascular elements and high expression in tubule epithelium. Confocal microscopy showed diffuse cytosolic immunoreactivity in confluent cultured cortical collecting ducts (CCDs). However, in subconfluent cells, immunoreactivity was restricted to the peri-nuclear area. This differential distribution of PKC zeta in the CCD suggests that PKC zeta action be involved in growth and differentiation of the collecting duct. In conclusion, PKC zeta is differentially expressed in the rabbit kidney with high expression in the tubule epithelium and little expression in vascular elements. These studies suggest an important role for PKC zeta along the nephron.