The kinetics of rod outer segment renewal in the developing retina have been investigated in C57BL/6J mice. Litters of mice were injected with [(3)H]amino acids at various ages and killed at progressively later time intervals. Plastic 1.5 microm sections of retina were studied by light microscope autoradiography. The rate of outer segment disk synthesis, as judged by labeled disk displacement away from the site of synthesis, is slightly greater than the adult level at 11-13 days of age; it rises to more than 1.6 times the adult rate between days 13 and 17, after which it falls to the adult level at 21-25 days. The rate of disk disposal, as measured by labeled disk movement toward the site of disposal, is less than 15% of the adult level at 11-13 days of age; it rises sharply to almost 70% of the adult level by days 13-15 and then more gradually approaches the adult rate. The net difference in rates of synthesis and disposal accounts for the rapid elongation of rod outer segments in the mouse between days 11 and 17 and the subsequent, more gradual elongation to the adult equilibrium length reached between days 19 and 25. The changing rate of outer segment disk synthesis characterizes the late stages of cytodifferentiation of the rod photoreceptor cells.