Mineralocorticoid action is facilitated by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type II (11βHSD2), which metabolizes glucocorticoids and allows aldosterone to bind to the nonselective mineralocorticoid receptor. We have recently demonstrated the presence of the 11βHSD2 protein in a wide range of human epithelia, suggesting that it is the sole isoform endowing specificity in man. In the present study we have used an immunopurified polyclonal antibody (RAH23) raised against a C-terminal peptide derived from the cloned rat 11βHSD2 protein to perform immunohistochemical and molecular analysis in rat tissues. In frozen sections of rat kidney, strong staining was seen with the RAH23 antibody in the distal tubule; weaker staining was observed in the thick ascending loop of Henle and the medullary and papillary collecting ducts. Punctate cortical staining was observed in the fetus at 20 days gestation and in 8-day-old rats, with a noticeable increase in the staining pattern at 16 days of age. The kidney did not attain the adult pattern of staining until 28 days of age. Epithelia of ileum and colon also stained with RAH23, as did excretory ducts of the submandibular gland. Intrahepatic and excretory bile ducts displayed strong immunoreactivity in the epithelial lining. Rat adrenal glands showed evidence of the 11βHSD2 antigen in the zona fasciculata and zona reticularis, but not in the zona glomerulosa or medulla. Western blot analysis with the RAH23 antibody revealed strong bands in the kidney, colon, adrenal gland, and submandibular gland at 40 kDa, colinear with the migration of the cloned 11βHSD2 enzyme. A hand of medium intensity was also seen at this size in the pancreas, whereas a band of moderate intensity was seen in the bile duct, and weaker bands were noticed in the stomach, small intestine, and liver, with a diffuse band at 36-42 kDa in the prostate. Strong bands were seen in the pancreas and prostate at 78 kDa, with weaker signals in the colon, adrenal, stomach, and bile duct. A number of tissues also displayed multiple hands at about 30 kDa. Enzymatic assays on tissue homogenates showed extensive conversion of corticosterone to its 11-dehydro product in an NAD-dependent manner in the submandibular gland, adrenal gland, and kidney, but not in the pancreas or prostate. This study confirms the ubiquitous presence of 11βHSD2 in sodium- transporting epithelia, demonstrates the high level of 11βHSD2 protein and enzyme activity in the rat adrenal, and suggests a possible role for the enzyme in the biliary system. Further studies are required to determine the relevance of the various molecular species to the activity, latency, and processing of the enzyme.