Cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) mRNA and protein are expressed in proximal and distal tubules of the human kidney, but CFTR expression pattern during human nephrogenesis is unknown. We have now studied CFTR expression in fetal kidneys by immunohistochemistry and Western blot analysis, using six antibodies against human CFTR. CFTR was expressed in 12-wk human fetal kidneys, mostly in the apical membrane region of the ureteric bud epithelial cells. By 15 wk, CFTR was also diffusely expressed throughout the cytoplasm of proximal tubules and loops of Henle. No glomerular staining was seen at any state. From 15 to 24 wk of gestation this staining pattern remained constant and also included immunoreactivity of the transitional epithelium. Western blot for CFTR was performed on membrane extracts of human fetal kidneys, using T84 cells as a positive control. A 165-kDa protein corresponding to the predicted size of CFTR was seen at 13 wk and throughout development. We also observed a 75-kDa protein that was distinctly regulated during development. This protein was detected with several antibodies against the first half of CFTR (including the regulatory "R" domain) but not with a COOH-terminal-specific antibody and had the predicted size of a functional splice variant of CFTR identified in the human kidney. These results show the complex regulation of CFTR during nephrogenesis and raise the question of the respective roles of the full-length and the splice variant CFTR proteins in the human kidney.