The aim of this investigation was to study crypt fission, a process which may be instrumental in regulating crypt number in the intestine. Young Holtzman rats were killed at various times after parturition and samples of the small intestine and colon were removed and processed. A microdissection technique was used to separate crypts from other structures. Crypts were scored as normal or fissioning. The percentage of crypts in fission (PCF) reached peak values of 25% and 52% in the small bowel and colon, respectively, at 21 days post-parturition. From this time onward, the PCF dropped until the adult value of approximately 7% was reached in each site. During this same period, the number of crypts increased from 1.9 X 10(6) to 3.3 X 10(6) in the small bowel and 2.2 X 10(5) to 6.5 X 10(5) in the colon. Thus an inverse relationship between the percentage of crypts in fission and crypt number was found. Distribution of fissure heights in fissioning crypts did not change as the animal aged. The majority of the fissures were found in the lower 1/4 of the fissioning crypts. This suggests that as soon as the fissure extends beyond the stem cell zone, division into two crypts soon occurs.