Human skin transplanted to nude mice offers a possible experimental system for the study of normal epidermal proliferation and differentiation, and for their pathological counterparts. Crucial to the development of such a system is the demonstration that such grafts retain the responsive features of donor skin. To document that donor proliferative characteristics are maintained in the grafts, a comparative analysis of agents that induce proliferation was made on skin of mice homozygous and heterozygous for nude, on pig skin, and on pig skin transplanted onto nude mice. A wave of epidermal proliferation could be induced in pig skin and pig skin grafted onto nude mice, but not in nude mouse skin after the topical application of 10 ng 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol 13-acetate (TPA). A 10-fold greater concentration of TPA or 5% croton oil induced proliferation in all species of epidermis studied. Mice, heterozygous for nude, showed a normal response to 10 ng TPA, suggesting that the ability to respond to TPA may be related, in part, to a recessive genetic trait. Nude mouse skin transplanted to a heterozygous littermate capable of responding to 10 ng TPA does not respond. These observations argue that: the graft retains its donor proliferative characteristics when transplanted to the nude, and the inability of the nude mouse to respond to lower doses of TPA may be related to absorption, the nude gene(s), or an inherent threshold to response. The lack of response to the promoter TPA provides a plausible explanation for the decreased incidence of tumors arising in nude mice during two-stage carcinogenesis experiments.