To determine the effects of age, feeding regimen, and antenatal glucocorticoids on intestinal permeability, preterm infants (n = 132) were stratified by gestational age and by diet (mothers' own milk versus preterm formula), and assigned randomly to one of four feeding regimens: early-continuous, early-bolus, standard-continuous, and standard-bolus. At 10, 28, and 50 d of age permeability was determined by measuring the ratio of lactulose/ mannitol in the urine after the two sugars were administered enterally for 30 h. The mean (+/-SE) birth weight and gestational age of the infants were 1044 +/- 13 g and 27 +/- 0.1 wk, respectively. Permeability changed as a function of age (p = 0.003). Early feeding was associated with a reduction in permeability at 10 d of age (p = 0.01). Antenatal steroid administration was associated with decreased permeability at 28 d of age (p = 0.017). The feeding of human milk (versus formula) was associated with decreased permeability at 28 d of age (p = 0.02). Continuous versus bolus feeding did not affect permeability.