Amino acids originating from the diet are the principal metabolic fuels for the small intestine, and although the developing intestine is exposed to dramatic changes in the types and amounts of protein, there is little known about rates of amino acid absorption across the apical membrane during development. Therefore, rates of absorption were measured for five amino acids that are substrates for the acidic (aspartate), basic (lysine), neutral (leucine and methionine), and imino (proline) amino acid carriers using intact tissues from the proximal, mid-, and distal small intestines of pigs ranging in age from 90% of gestation to 42 days after birth (12 days after weaning). Rates of absorption (sum of carrier-mediated and apparent diffusion) were highest at birth (except for proline) and declined by an average of 30% during the first 24 h of suckling. There were continuing declines for leucine, methionine, and proline but not for aspartate and lysine. Due to rapid growth of the intestine, absorption capacities for all amino acids increased faster than predicted from gains in metabolic mass. Regional differences for rates of absorption were not detected until after birth, and only for aspartate and proline. Maximum rates of saturable absorption (nmol. min(-1). mg tissue(-1)) by the midintestine increased during the last 10% of gestation, were highest at birth, and then declined. The contribution of apparent diffusion to amino acid absorption was lowest at birth, then increased after onset of suckling.