Applications of lanthanum as an electron microscopic tracer have been reviewed. This electron-dense trivalent cation, which binds avidly to calcium binding sites, can be used as tracer for delineating extracellular spaces and intercellular junctions. It has served as a basis for classification of junctional structures. It can also be used as a calcium probe, a tracer in studying the permeability of barriers, as an intracellular marker and as an electron microscopic stain for such membrane components as surface glycoprotein. Each of these applications may require a different methodology. Thus methodological considerations in the use of this tracer have also been reviewed. The recent recognition that lanthanum is more than a passive tracer and that by reacting with different cell components may serve as a true stain, will extend the use of lanthanum in electron microscope histochemistry.