The ontogeny of lectin-positive epithelial cell types and the maturation of polarized expression of the glycocalyx of the collecting ducts (CD) of the rat kidney were studied from samples of 18th-day fetal and neonatal kidneys of various ages. Lectins from Dolichos biflorus (DBA) and Vicia villosa (VVA), with preferential affinity to principal cells, stained virtually all CD cells of the fetal kidneys. However, within two days postnatally, the number of cells positive for DBA and VVA decreased to amounts found in the adult kidneys. Moreover, a characteristic change occurred rapidly after birth in the intracellular polarization of the reactive glycoconjugates, from a uniform plasmalemmal to a preferentially apical staining. In contrast, lectins from Arachis hypogaea (PNA), Maclura pomifera (MPA) and Lotus tetragonolobus (LTA), reacting indiscriminatively with principal and intercalated cells of adult kidneys, stained most CD cells in the fetal kidneys, and failed to show any postnatal change in the amount of positive cells or in the intracellular polarization.
The immunocytochemical tests for (Na + K)-ATPase and carbonic anhydrase (CA II) revealed the characteristic postnatal decrease in the amount of principal cells and simultaneous increase in the amount of CA II rich intercalated cells. DBA and VVA reactive cells also decreased postnatally, paralleling the changes observed in the (Na + K)-ATPase positive principal cells. The present results suggest that the expression of the cell type-specific glycocalyx of principal and intercalated cells is developmentally regulated, undergoes profound changes during maturation, and is most likely associated with electrolyte transport phenomena.