Renin is a key enzyme in the renin-angiotensin system (RAS), a pathway which plays an important physiological role in blood pressure and electrolyte homeostasis. The origin of the RAS is believed to have accompanied early evolution of vertebrates. However, renin genes have so far only been unequivocally identified in mammals. Whether or not a bona fide renin gene exists in nonmammalian vertebrates has been an intriguing question of physiological and evolutionary interest. Using a genomic analytical approach, we identified renin genes in two nonmammalian vertebrates, zebrafish (Danio rerio) and pufferfish (Takifugu rubripes). Phylogenetic analysis demonstrates that the predicted fish renins cluster together with mammalian renins to form a distinct subclass of vertebrate aspartyl proteases. RT-PCR results confirm generation of the predicted zebrafish mRNA and its expression in association with the opisthonephric kidney of adult zebrafish. Comparative in situ hybridization analysis of wild-type and developmental mutants indicates that renin expression is first detected bilaterally in cells of the interrenal primordia at 24 h postfertilization, which subsequently migrate to lie adjacent to, but distinct from, the glomerulus of the developing pronephric kidney. Our report provides the first molecular evidence for the existence of renin genes in lower vertebrates. The observation that the earliest renin-expressing cells, arising during ontogeny of this teleost vertebrate, are of adrenocortical lineage raises an interesting hypothesis as regards the origin of renin-expressing cells in the metanephric kidney of higher vertebrates.