Adriamycin (ADR) is strongly teratogenic. We investigated the effects of ADR on apoptosis and the intensity of E-cadherin expression in developing kidneys. An experimental group of rats was given 2 mg/kg/day ADR on days 6-9 of gestation and a control group was given saline on the same schedule. Embryos were decapitated on days 13, 15, 17 and 19 of gestation, and processed and embedded in paraffin for routine light microscopy. Kidney specimens were stained with hematoxylin and eosin or periodic acid-Schiff, or immunostained for E-cadherin. Apoptosis was assessed using the TUNEL method. Weight loss and developmental deficiency were determined in embryos of the experimental group. ADR damaged or destroyed tubule epithelial cells, which caused apparent dilatation of the tubule lumen. Also, the brush borders of proximal tubules were damaged and glomerular spaces were dilated. ADR caused apoptosis of kidney tissue by days 15, 17 and 19 of development and E-cadherin expression was up-regulated during kidney development compared to controls. We found that ADR can cause apoptosis and increased E-cadherin expression in the developing rat kidney. E-cadherin expression and apoptosis may contribute to the development of ADR nephrotoxicity.