Corticosteroid 11 beta-dehydrogenase, the enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of the biologically active steroid cortisol to its inactive metabolite cortisone, is present in testis. Since excess cortisol in men and other mammals and excess corticosterone in rodents cause physiological abnormalities including abnormal testicular function, it was pertinent to study the cellular distribution of 11 beta-dehydrogenase in the testis. Purified antiserum directed against homogeneous rat 11 beta-dehydrogenase was used to localize the enzyme in the developing rat testis. With immunofluorescence, the enzyme was not detectable in fetal testis or in the testis of young male rats until the 26th day of development. A few interstitial cells were stained in the testis of 26-day-old animals. In the testis of 31-day-old rats many cells in the interstitium were positive. In adult animals the entire interstitial region displayed bright fluorescence. Depleting animals of germ cells did not abolish the fluorescence. The appearance of this enzyme correlates temporally with the postnatal increase in Leydig cell number and the developmental rise in serum testosterone. We suggest that 11 beta-dehydrogenase of Leydig cells protects the testis from the deleterious effects of cortisol.