Kinins modulate renal function, yet their role in the developing kidney is largely unknown. To explore the developmental role of the kallikrein-kinin system, we examined the postnatal ontogeny and intrarenal localization of B2 receptors in the rat. Northern blot analysis and RT-PCR documented the expression of B2 receptor mRNA in the kidney and extrarenal tissues of fetal, neonatal and adult animals. The abundance of B2 receptor mRNA is 10- to 30-fold higher in neonatal than adult tissues in the following order: kidney > heart > aorta > lung > brain. Receptor autoradiography revealed a gradual shift in the localization of bradykinin binding sites from the outer cortex in the newborn to the outer medulla in weanling and maturing rats. The almost complete displacement of [125I]tyr(zero)-bradykinin by HOE-140 indicates that the majority of kinin receptors in the developing kidney belong to the B2 type. Immunolocalization studies using antipeptide antibodies directed against various portions of the receptor revealed that B2 receptors are first expressed on the luminal aspect of the upper limb of S-shaped bodies and differentiating cortical collecting ducts. In marked contrast, the metanephric mesenchyme, pretubular aggregates and glomeruli display weak or no B2 receptor immunoreactivity. Following completion of nephrogenesis, B2 receptor expression shifts to both luminal and basolateral aspects of connecting tubules and collecting ducts. The results demonstrate that bradykinin B2 receptor gene expression is activated in the developing kidney and cardiovascular system. The spatially restricted expression of B2 receptors in the differentiating epithelium of the distal nephron, the site of kinin formation, supports the hypothesis that kinins are paracrine modulators of segmental nephron maturation.