Catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) activity in the liver and kidneys of adult Fischer-344 (F-344) rats is only half of that in the same organs of Wistar-Furth (W-F) rats. The trait of low COMT activity in these animals is inherited in an autosomal recessive fashion. A comprehensive study of patterns of change in COMT activity during growth and development was performed to determine whether "temporal gene" effects might play a role in the inherited differences in enzyme activity present in adult animals. The COMT activity expressed per mg protein in liver and kidneys of newborn F-344 rats is only 50-60% of that in the same organs of W-F animals. The liver and the kidneys of newborn rats of both strains have COMT activity an order of magnitude higher than those in brain, heart, or blood. In addition, in both strains there are much larger increases in liver and kidney COMT activities during growth and development (5-10 fold) than in blood, brain, or heart (one- to twofold). Immunotitration with antibodies against rat COMT demonstrates that differences in immunoreactive COMT parallel differences in COMT activity, both between strains and within strains during growth and development. However, when the temporal patterns of change in enzyme activities in the liver and the kidneys of the two strains of rat are compared at multiple times during growth and development, no differences in the patterns are present. These results make it unlikely that temporal gene effects can explain the inherited differences in COMT activity in liver and kidneys of F-344 and W-F rats.