In the present study, we determined whether expression of the messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNAs) for insulin-like growth factor-II (IGF-II), and its principal IGF type-1 receptor and IGF-binding protein-2 (IGFBP-2), as well as basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), was developmentally regulated in the baboon fetal adrenal gland. In the second phase of this study, fetal pituitary ACTH was suppressed by the administration of betamethasone to determine the possible effect on the mRNA levels for those factors, i.e. IGF-II and IGFBP-2, shown to be expressed at high levels in the adrenal late in fetal development. Adrenals were obtained from fetuses delivered via Cesarean section on days 60 (early), 100 (mid), and 165 (late) of gestation (term=184 days) from untreated baboons and on day 165 from baboons in which betamethasone was administered to the fetus, or to fetus and mother, every other day between days 150 and 164 of gestation. Although the mRNA levels of IGF-II in the fetal adrenal were similar at early, mid and late gestation, IGF type-1 receptor mRNA levels were approximately 2- to 3-fold greater (P<0.01) at mid than at early or late gestation. In contrast, there was an increase (P<0.001) in fetal adrenal IGFBP-2 and bFGF mRNA levels in late gestation. Although fetal adrenal weights and width of the zone of definitive/transitional cells exhibiting immunocytochemical staining for Delta(5)-3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3beta-HSD) were markedly suppressed (P<0.01) by the administration of betamethasone, IGF-II and IGFBP-2 mRNA expression was not decreased. In summary, very different patterns of mRNA levels for IGF-II, IGF type-1 receptor, IGFBP-2 and bFGF were exhibited in the developing baboon fetal adrenal gland, which may reflect functionally important differences in their respective cellular localization within the cortex, as well as a divergence in the functional development of the fetal, transitional and definitive zones of the baboon fetal adrenal cortex.