Insulin-like growth factors (IGF) are important regulators of skeletal growth. To determine whether the capacity to produce and respond to these growth factors changes during skeletal development, we measured the protein and mRNA levels for IGF-I, IGF-II, and their receptors (IGF-IR and IGF-IIR, respectively) in the tibia and femur of rats before and up to 28 mo after birth. The mRNA levels remained high during fetal development but fell after birth, reaching a nadir by 3-6 wk. This fall was most pronounced for IGF-II and IGF-IIR mRNA and least pronounced for IGF-I mRNA. However, after 6 wk, both IGF-I and IGF-IR mRNA levels recovered toward the levels observed at birth. In the prenatal bones, the signals for the mRNAs of IGF-II and IGF-IIR were stronger than the signals for the mRNAs of IGF-I and IGF-IR, although the content of IGF-I was three- to fivefold greater than that of IGF-II. IGF-II levels fell postnatally, whereas the IGF-I content rose after birth such that the ratio IGF-I/IGF-II continued to increase with age. We conclude that, during development, rat bone changes its capacity to produce and respond to IGFs with a progressive trend toward the dominance of IGF-I.