Exposure to hyperglycemia in utero impairs rat nephrogenesis. The effect of maternal diabetes on insulin-like growth factors and their receptors in the fetal kidney is associated with an increase in both mRNA and protein of the insulin-like growth factor II/mannose 6-phosphate receptor. However, this receptor has never been localized in the fetal kidney. The spatial and temporal distribution of the three insulin-like growth factor receptors (insulin-like growth factor I receptor, insulin-like growth factor II/mannose 6-phosphate receptor and insulin receptor) in rat metanephros during both normal and streptozotocin-induced diabetic renal development was investigated using in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. All receptors were found in the fetal kidney from the start of nephrogenesis. Insulin-like growth factor I receptor expression was ubiquitous and continuously present during metanephric development. Insulin receptor expression was developmentally regulated during kidney maturation with an enhanced expression in proximal tubules at the late stages of development. Insulin-like growth factor II/mannose 6-phosphate receptor expression was ubiquitous in the early stages of development and was dramatically decreased at the late stages of normal kidney development. Insulin receptor and insulin-like growth factor I receptor expressions were unchanged in diabetic metanephroi. Although the spatial expression of insulin-like growth factor II/mannose 6-phosphate receptor was unaffected by hyperglycemia, its expression was not downregulated in the mesenchyme of the nephrogenic zone of diabetic fetuses on gestational day 20. This study suggests a crucial role of insulin-like growth factor II/mannose 6-phosphate receptor in the pathogenesis of the impaired nephrogenesis in fetuses of diabetic mothers.