The distribution of epidermal growth factor (EGF), transforming growth factor alpha (TGF alpha), and EGF/TGF alpha receptor were studied by means of immunohistochemical methods starting from the very early stages of human embryonic kidney development. Mesonephros and metanephros were examined in order to detect immunoreactive staining in serial sectioned embryos and fetal kidneys. Anti-EGF immunoprecipitates were found in the S-shaped mesonephric vesicles of 6-week old embryos as well as in the mesonephric duct albeit with a lower degree of reactivity. Intense reactivity was observed in the metanephros within the blastemic caps of the same gestational period; the reaction was weaker within the ureteric bud branches. Bowman's capsule, proximal tubules, and collecting ducts were also reactive in the fetal kidney to varying degrees. The distribution of TGF alpha reactivity in the mesonephros was similar to that observed for EGF but with a lower intensity. In contrast, there was no reactivity in the metanephros, at least during the embyronic periods examined. By the 11th week of gestation, an intense reactivity for TGF alpha polipeptide was shown in the fetal kidney at the level of the proximal tubules and Bowman's capsule; distal tubules as well as all urinary structures from the collecting ducts to the pelvis were less reactive. Finally, EGF/TGF alpha receptor reactivity was identified by the 6th week of development, being more intense in the mesonephros at the level of the mesonephric duct cells. In the metanephros, the ureteric bud-derived branches were reactive, whereas most of the blastemic tissue did not stain. By the 11th week, only the collecting ducts and the remaining urinary structures contained reaction products: Reactivity was distributed to the tissues originating from the ureteric bud branching. Taking into account recent advances in knowledge about the biology of growth factors, the hypothesis is proposed that the secretory components (vesicles, glomerulus, and tubules) of renal anlagen might release the growth factors while the cells of the urinary tract (i.e., collecting duct, pelvis, etc.) may be their targets.