Maturation of the rat fetal thyroid was studied with the aid of I131 and of fluorescence and electron microscopy. The I131 concentration of the fetal gland increased exponentially from day 17 to day 20 of gestation and was related to the weight of the fetus (and presumably the weight of the thyroid) and also to the quantity of I131 accumulated by the fetus. In the 17-day gland, thyroglobulin or immunologically similar material was sparsely present in the incipient lumens of some cell clusters. With maturation, this material increased and was also observed within follicular cells on days 18 to 19 of gestation. On day 20, the specifically reacting material was present in the follicular lumens and was absent from the cytoplasm of follicular epithelium. Ultrastructurally, the earliest thyroid cells examined were replete with all the organelles found in the more mature epithelium. No direct correlation could be made between the cytoplasmic structures and the presence of thyroglobulin, although the granular endoplasmic reticulum was most likely the organelle responsible for synthesis of thyroglobulin. Thyroglobulin or a precursor was found in fetal thyroid cells before measurable quantities of I131 were concentrated and before cytoplasmic droplets appeared.

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