Previous investigations in rats older than 7 d have shown that apical sodium-dependent bile acid transport in the ileum is abruptly expressed at the time of weaning, whereas it is constitutively expressed in the kidney. The current study was designed to characterize the expression of sodium-dependent bile acid transport in late gestation and in the immediate postnatal period in the rat. Sodium-dependent bile acid transport was measured by rapid filtration using [3H]taurocholate and crude brush border membrane vesicles. Apical sodium-dependent bile acid transporter (ASBT) and ileal lipid binding protein (ILBP) expression were analyzed by Western and Northern blotting. Ileal bile acid content was measured by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. In the ileum significantly greater sodium-dependent taurocholate uptake was measured in fetal d 22 (E22) membrane vesicles compared with postnatal d 7 (E22 17.0 +/- 5.7. P7 3.9 +/- 2.1 pmol/mg/60 s mean +/- SD, n = 3, p = 0.02). Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry revealed significant quantities of ileal bile acids at E22. Western and northern blotting of fetal ileum revealed ASBT but not ILBP. ASBT expression was suppressed by P7 and then reinduced by P21, whereas ILBP appeared to be first expressed postnatally. In contrast ASBT expression in the kidney was less age-dependent. Therefore, it appears that functional expression of the ASBT gene in the rat ileum is biphasic with a prenatal onset of expression, followed by repression in the early postnatal period and then marked reinduction at weaning.