The intrarenal distribution of renin changes markedly during maturation. To determine whether renin gene expression changes along the developing renal vasculature, renin mRNA distribution was assessed using in situ hybridization histochemistry. Fetal, newborn, and adult kidney tissue sections from Wistar-Kyoto rats were hybridized with an oligonucleotide complementary to rat renin mRNA. In fetal kidneys, renin mRNA was found in the vascular pole of juxtamedullary glomeruli and along afferent, interlobular, and arcuate arteries. In kidneys from newborn rats, renin mRNA localized throughout the whole length of afferent arterioles, but was not detected in interlobular or arcuate arteries. In adult kidneys, hybridization signals were less intense and confined to the juxtaglomerular apparatus. Immunolocalization of renin with a polyclonal anti-rat renin antibody paralleled closely the mRNA distribution. Northern blot analyses demonstrated that renin mRNA levels were higher in fetal and newborn (20- and 10-fold, respectively) than in adult kidneys. We conclude the following. 1) The fetal kidney expresses the renin gene. 2) Expression of the renin gene is subjected to developmental changes. 3) As maturation progresses, localization of renin synthesis and storage shifts from large intrarenal arteries to a restricted, classical juxtaglomerular site in the afferent arteriole.