The localization of the two type 1 angiotensin II receptor subtype (AT1A and AT1B) messenger RNAs in the 19-day-old rat fetus was studied by in situ hybridization. AT1 receptor mRNAs were detected in target organs of the reninangiotensin system such as the kidney, adrenal gland, liver, heart, large arteries, and pituitary gland. In addition, angiotensin II receptors were present in specialized mesenchymal cells surrounding the cartilage, in the pericardium, in the lung, and in the undifferentiated mesenchymal tissue. The AT1A subtype was predominant in all tissues and organs except the adrenal cortex and glomeruli in the kidney, which expressed both AT1A and AT1B mRNAs. The widespread distribution of AT1 receptors in tissues and organs involved in hydromineral equilibrium and blood pressure regulation shows that during fetal development angiotensin II may already act as a regulator of the cardiovascular system. An effect on cellular differentiation and/or proliferation via AT1 receptors is also suggested by their location in several mesenchymes.