The renal and adrenal responses to a continuous infusion of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor captopril were studied in 27 chronically catheterized sheep fetuses (less than 120 days gestation, n = 15, and greater than 130 days gestation, n = 12; term being 145 days) and in 12 newborn lambs between 8 and 21 days of age. Total renal blood flow did not change during ACE inhibition. However, the renal vascular resistance decreased significantly in newborn lambs (-21.8 +/- 5.7%) and in fetuses greater than 130 days (-21.7 +/- 4.7%) but not in fetuses less than 120 days. A significant decrease in filtration fraction (-19.2 +/- 6.5%) was observed in newborn lambs. No changes in urinary kallikrein and prostaglandin excretion rate were observed during ACE inhibition in any group of animals. ACE inhibition produced similar declines in blood pressure in both groups of fetuses (-10.2 +/- 3% in fetuses less than 120 days and -9.5 +/- 4.6% in fetuses greater than 130 days) and in newborn lambs (-13.4 +/- 2.1%). The percent changes in plasma renin activity were similar in all groups of animals. However, a significant decline in plasma aldosterone concentration was observed only in newborn lambs (from 130 +/- 31 to 64 +/- 9 pg/ml). These results suggest that the renin-angiotensin system might have physiological significance during maturation, but that this role seems to be more important in near-term fetuses (greater than 130 days) and postnatally than early in gestation.