The construction of the liver parenchyma throughout fetal development depends on the elaboration of intercellular contacts between epithelial cells and between epithelial and mesenchymal cells. During this time, the spatial distribution of cytokeratins in hepatocytes shows a striking evolution as demonstrated by confocal microscopy and image analysis. In the early stages of fetal rat development, the liver is mainly a hematopoietic organ and hepatocytes represent fewer than 40% of all liver cells. At this time, cytokeratin filaments are scarce and are randomly distributed inside the cytoplasm. A coexpression of desmin and cytokeratin is found in some cells. Intercellular contacts between epithelial and mesenchymal cells are more numerous than between epithelial cells. Later in development, hepatocytes are arranged in a "muralium duplex" architecture (two-cell-thick sheets). Contacts between hepatocytes become more numerous and bile canaliculi become well developed. The density of cytokeratin filaments increases and appears to be very high near the bile canaliculi. In adult liver, hepatocytes are arranged in a "muralium simplex" architecture. Cytokeratin filaments show a symmetrical distribution in relation to the nuclear region. The highest density of filaments is found near the cytoplasmic membrane. Variations of the spatial distribution of intermediate filaments throughout hepatocyte differentiation were investigated in a pilot study using computerized image analysis. We found significant differences between the filament networks in fetal and adult hepatocytes.