PURPOSE: To provide new information on epiretinal cell proliferation and the cells' origin in idiopathic macular holes and to overcome the effects of embedding and sectioning preparation procedures on cell-distribution patterns. METHODS: Interference and phase-contrast microscopy, immunocytochemistry, and scanning and transmission electron microscopy were performed on surgically excised whole-mounted internal limiting membrane (ILM) specimens removed from 60 eyes with idiopathic macular holes. Cell distribution and cell morphology were correlated with immunocytochemical staining characteristics. Twelve cell type-specific antibodies were used to detect glial cells, hyalocytes, retinal pigment epithelial cells, retinal ganglion cells, and immune cells. Cell viability was analyzed. RESULTS: Epiretinal cell proliferation was found in all ILM specimens, irrespective of the stage of the macular hole. Cell density showed a broad variety. Immunocytochemistry frequently revealed simultaneous expression of GFAP/CD45, GFAP/CD64, GFAP/CD68, GFAP/CRALBP, and GFAP/CD90. Some cells presented with intracellular contractile filaments (anti-αSMA); others were not immunoreactive to any antibody examined. The percentage of viable cells showed a broad variety with a mean of 73% (SD 29%). Electron microscopy demonstrated glial cells, hyalocytes, and myofibroblast-like cells. CONCLUSIONS: The presence of epiretinal cells at the ILM in all macular hole stages strongly suggests a substantial involvement of cell migration and proliferation in the course of macular hole development. Glial cells and hyalocytes play the predominant role in epiretinal cell proliferation. Given the co-expression of glial cell and hyalocyte markers, transdifferentiation of epiretinal cells needs further elucidation, especially with respect to αSMA-positive cells leading to traction at the vitreoretinal interface.