The anatomical structure as well as the smooth muscle cell (SMC1) composition of the ductus arteriosus (DA) were studied in rabbits ranging in age from 29 days of gestation to 20 days after birth. Computer-assisted, three-dimensional reconstructions of hematoxylin-eosin stained serial cryosections from ductus arteriosus-aorta (DA-AO) junctures revealed that DA in animals near term is separated from the aorta by a "septumlike" structure that is continuous with the aortic wall. Two days after birth, obliteration of DA is almost complete, and a small "pocketlike" cavity appears in the pre-existing site in which DA merged into the aorta. This small cavity in the aortic arch was still evident in the large majority of animals examined even 20 days after birth, as also demonstrated by scanning electron microscopy. At this time period DA consisted of a central, fibrotic region surrounded by several layers of SMC (the ligamentum arteriosum, LA) and ended within the aortic media just above the small cavity, forming a round "scar." Vascular SMC composition of DA during closure was examined by means of indirect and double immunofluorescence procedures, using a panel of monoclonal antibodies against some cytoskeletal and cytocontractile proteins (vimentin, desmin, smooth muscle (SM), and nonmuscle (NM) myosin isoforms). "Intimal cushions" were particularly evident from 5 hr after birth and were found to be desmin-negative, homogenously reactive for vimentin and NM myosin, and heterogeneously stained with anti-SM myosin antibody. In SMC subjacent to the "intimal cushions," distribution of vimentin and SM myosin was homogeneous, whereas the one of desmin and NM myosin content was heterogeneous. The cytoskeletal and cytocontractile protein content displayed by SMC during the closure of DA is similar to that of "intimal thickening" found in some pathological conditions of the arterial wall in adult rabbits. Completation of DA closure (day 2) was accompanied by the disappearance of cellular heterogeneity in myosin isoform distribution in both the "intimal cushions" and the underlying media. These results give new insights into: (1) the structure of DA-AO juncture, which can be relevant to the physiology of blood circulation in the fetus, and (2) the phenotypic similarity of vascular SMC populations involved in the formation of "intimal cushions" and "intimal thickening."