Livers of rats between the 16th gestational and 100th postnatal day of age were subjected to quantitative biochemical and electron microscope, morphometric analyses. The amount of total mitochondrial protein per gram of liver remained at 34% of the adult level throughout the last 4 days of gestation but this was the period of rapid rise in the levels of cytochrome c oxidase, aspartate aminotransferase, and glutamate dehydrogenase in mitochondria; the nuclear fraction also acquired some glutamate dehydrogenase but lost most of it during postnatal development. During early postnatal life the amount of mitochondrial protein rose in parallel with the levels of cytochrome c oxidase and glutamate dehydrogenase but the upsurges of glutaminase and, later, of ornithine aminotransferase were accompanied by relatively little change in total mitochondrial protein. The surface area of rough endoplasmic reticulum per unit volume of hepatocyte cytoplasm (SvRER) did not change significantly throughout the period of development studied. From the 16th day of gestation to term the surface area of smooth ER (SvSER), the volume occupied by mitochondria (VvMT) and their number (NvMT) remained at 30, 66, and 45% of their adult values, respectively. VvMT and NvMT attained their maximal levels by the 2nd postnatal day and SvSER between days 2 and 12. Mitochondria of adult liver are thus smaller and contain more protein per unit volume than do those of fetal liver. After the 12th postnatal day, hepatocytes treble their size; they acquire more cytoplasm with additional enzymes but without further change in organelle concentration. The data reveal several distinct phases in the differentiation of hepatocytes. Each phase can be characterized by the extent to which the quantity and composition of various subcellular compartments evolve.

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