Three members of the water channel (aquaporin) family are expressed in adult rat lung: CHIP28 (AQP-1), MIWC (AQP-4), and AQP-5. Because water channels may be important in the clearance of fluid from the newborn lung, the expression of water channels just before and after birth was investigated using the ribonuclease (RNAse) protection assay. RNA was isolated from lungs, brain, and heart of prenatal rats (fetal days F19, F20, and F21) and postnatal rats (days +1, +2, +5, +7, +21, and adult). Transcript expression was measured relative to a beta-actin control by quantitative densitometry. Whereas beta-actin mRNA expression was nearly constant over time, distinct expression patterns were observed for the three water channels. CHIP28 mRNA expression rose slowly from days F19 to +1, then strongly at day +2, and remained elevated over the first week. MIWC mRNA was weakly expressed prenatally, but strongly increased just after birth. AQP-5 mRNA increased slowly and monotonically between days F20 and +7. These patterns contrasted sharply with the developmental expression of CHIP28 in heart, which decreased over time, and MIWC in brain. Immunocytochemistry showed CHIP28 protein expression in capillary endothelia and MIWC in airway epithelia by day +1; quantitative immunoblot analysis showed increased CHIP28 protein expression over time. These findings are consistent with a role of lung water channels in perinatal fluid clearance; however, proof of physiologic significance will require functional measurements of air space-capillary water permeability.