Apical tight junctional formation of the rabbit corneal endothelium was examined by freeze-fracture analysis and measurement of paracellular permeability to 5(6)-carboxyfluorescein. Freeze-fracture analysis indicated that apical tight junction formation of the rabbit corneal endothelium is a dynamic process. At birth, there are few tight junctional strands present and a minimal barrier for paracellular diffusion. As the rabbit matures, a more complex network of anastomosing tight junctional strands begins to encircle the cell perimeter under the apical folds. However, even in the mature animal (3 months), there are discontinuities and free ends in the network, thus suggesting that the barrier is not complete even at this stage. Paracellular permeability measurements using 5(6)-carboxyfluorescein as a tracer corroborate these anatomic findings. Endothelial paracellular flux measurements steadily decrease as the rabbit matures from birth to young adult. This indicates that the tight junctional network is increasing in complexity and progressively limiting the flow of substances through the intercellular space.