Polyamines play an important role in cell growth and differentiation. We studied changes in morphogenesis and the expression of the developmental control genes in the embryonic mouse kidney in response to polyamine depletion, using a kidney organ culture approach and reducing the polyamine pools with alpha-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), an irreversible suicide inhibitor of ornithine decarboxylase (ODC). We found that inhibition of ODC results in a systematic kidney organogenesis phenotype, in that the DFMO-treated kidney specimens were of smaller size, had less epithelial ureteric bud branches, and their mesenchymal-derived tubule formation was retarded. These dysmorphologies were shown to be associated with changes in cell proliferation. Whole-mount in situ experiments revealed that inhibition of ODC causes increases in epithelial c-ret and E-cadherin and a decrease in mesenchymal Pax-8 expression, whereas levels of epithelial Wnt-11, mesenchymal GDNF, FoxD1, and Pax-2 transcripts remain unchanged. We studied regulation of the Pax-2 gene by analyzing a mouse line in which lacZ was driven by an 8.5 kb Pax-2 enhancer in the epithelial ureteric bud, and found that Pax-2 expression, as indicated by lacZ expression, increased after DFMO treatment. Transient transfection experiments in HEK 293 cells with the minimal Pax-2 promoter showed enhanced transcription upon reduction of the polyamine pools. We propose that ODC and polyamines have an important role in kidney organogenesis, being involved in the regulation of the expression of genes implicated in epithelial-mesenchymal tissue interactions.