Recent evidence suggests that a local renin-angiotensin system is operational in the kidney and that it mediates some of the actions of angiotensin II on renal tubules. In this study the ontogeny and renal distribution of the unique precursor to angiotensin II formation, angiotensinogen, was investigated in rats by use of immunohistochemistry, immuno-electron microscopy and non-isotopic hybridization histochemistry. At the light-microscopic level, intense staining for angiotensinogen was found in the proximal convoluted tubules of the cortex, with lighter staining in the straight proximal tubules of the outer stripe. The strongest immunostaining was found in the kidneys of neonatal rats, where glomerular mesangial cells and medullary vascular bundles were also immunopositive. The angiotensinogen content of the kidneys in late gestation embryos and neonates showed the presence of angiotensinogen by day E18 and a peak content in the neonate. Non-isotopic hybridization histochemistry with biotinylated oligodeoxynucleotide probes confirmed the presence of angiotensinogen mRNA expression in the proximal convoluted tubules of the renal cortex. Electron-microscopic immunohistochemistry showed staining of relatively few electron-dense structures close to the apical membrane of proximal convoluted tubule cells in the adult kidney. In the neonatal rat kidney, angiotensinogen immunostaining at the electron-microscopic level was found throughout the proximal tubule cells and was markedly stronger than that seen in adult kidney. The presence of angiotensinogen, from embryonic day 18, in the proximal tubules, mesangial cells and vasculature of the kidney suggests multiple potential sites of intrarenal angiotensin II generation with an ontogeny in late gestation.