Changes in intestinal permeability during postnatal development in the pig were investigated by using different-sized polyethylene glycols in the Mr 766-1338 range (polyethylene glycol 1000) as permeability probes. Pigs of varying age, newborn (Oh), 36-45 h old and 22-28 days old, were gavage fed polyethylene glycol 1000 together with the macromolecular markers bovine serum albumin, ovalbumin or FITC-labelled dextran 70,000. The 4-h blood serum concentrations of the different markers were determined and taken as an estimate of their intestinal transmission. In the newborn pigs, high serum levels of polyethylene glycols were obtained, concomitant with high serum levels of bovine serum albumin and FITC-dextran. After intestinal macromolecular closure in the 36-45 h-old pigs, lower serum polyethylene glycol levels were found, especially of those with a Mr greater than 1100 Da. In the 22-28 days-old pigs, polyethylene glycol levels were reduced to one-tenth or less of those in the 36-45 h-old pigs, with the levels decreasing markedly with increasing molecular size. These results show that there is a correlation between the intestinal permeability of polyethylene glycols, especially those larger than 1100, and macromolecules in the newborn pig around intestinal closure, suggesting that such polyethylene glycols traverse the gut by the macromolecular route. During later development, further intestinal maturation results in a markedly reduced permeability to polyethylene glycol 1000.