The collecting duct epithelium originates from the embryonic ureter by branching morphogenesis. Ontogeny-dependent changes of CFTR mRNA expression were assessed by quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in primary monolayer cultures of rat ureteric buds (UB) and cortical collecting ducts, microdissected at different embryonic and postnatal developmental stages. The amount of wild-type CFTR-specific PCR product in UB declined to 20% of the initial value between embryonic gestational day E15 and postnatal day P1. After birth the CFTR product increased transiently between P1 and P7 by a factor of 10 and decreased towards day P14. PCR products specific for TRN-CFTR, a truncated splice variant, however, were low in early embryonic cells, increased markedly between day E17 and P2, and reached a plateau postnatally. Therefore, mRNA encoding TRN-CFTR does not appear to have a specific embryonic-morphogenetic function. By contrast, such function is suggested for wild-type CFTR mRNA as its abundance was high in early embryonic nephrogenesis, as well as during a postnatal period shortly before branching morphogenesis is completed.