The microvessels of the pia mater lack an investment with astrocyte processes but nonetheless have a high transendothelial electrical resistance which has caused them to be regarded as part of the blood-brain barrier. This high resistance is known to be acquired in the perinatal period. The aim of our study was to relate the known physiological changes with differentiation of the endothelial paracellular clefts and especially of their tight junctions which provide the basis for the high transendothelial resistance of blood-brain barrier vessels. Tight junctions of endothelial cell paracellular clefts in pial microvessels were examined by transmission electron microscopy using goniometric tilting to reveal and measure membrane separations at tight junctions in fetal, postnatal and adult rats. These tight junctional membrane separations narrowed over the period (E16: 6.3 nm, D1: 6.4 nm, D7: 5.4 nm) and differentiated into two groups by the adult stage: one with a membrane separation of 2.8 nm and the staining characteristics of non-brain endothelial junctions, and the other with no detectable membrane separation and the staining characteristics of blood-brain barrier endothelial junctions. This patchy and incomplete differentiation of pial tight junctions into a blood-brain barrier-like form could result either from non-uniform exposure to inductive signals or to local variation in responsiveness to such agents. Although these changes in junction organization may be related to the known increase in pial transendothelial resistance in the perinatal period, we have not yet identified any sharply defined structural change which coincides with this physiological event.