Examination of glutaraldehyde-fixed, freeze-fractured livers from 14-15-day rat fetuses provided the basis for the following observations. Membrane particles align in otherwise poorly particulated areas of the presumptive pericanalicular plasma membrane (A face), frequently forming a discontinuous "honey-comb" network joining small particle islands. Even at this early stage, contiguous B-fracture faces contain furrows, rather than rows of pits, distinguishing the linear particle aggregates on the A face as developing tight junctions rather than gap junctions. Short segments of these linear arrays merge with smooth ridges clearly identifiable as segments of discontinuous tight junctions. With the continuing confluence of particulate and smooth ridge segments, mature tight junctions become fully appreciable. We conclude that tight junctions form de novo by the alignment and fusion of separate particles into beaded ridges which, in turn, become confluent and are transformed into continuous smooth ones. At 21 days of fetal life, most of the images of assembly have disappeared, and the liver reveals well-formed bile canaliculi sealed by mature tight junctions.

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