The luminal membrane of ileal absorptive cells in suckling rats includes two domains: microvillar membranes and deep invaginations between microvilli. We examined the fates of foreign macromolecules that bind to anionic or saccharide sites on these domains after infusion into ligated loops in vivo. Cationized ferritin (CF) and ferritin-RCAI (β-galactosyl) binding sites were distributed over the entire apical membrane. Ligands bound to apical invaginations were rapidly endo cytosed, but ligands on microvilli were not. After CF binding, anionic sites on microvilli were mobile in the plane of the membrane and formed CF clusters at the tip and base of each microvillus. RCAI binding sites did not cluster. Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA, sialic acid) labeling was restricted to microvillus tips of mature cells but was dispersed over the microvillar surfaces of lower villus cells. Ferritin conjugates of Concanavalia ensiformis (Con A), Ulex europaeus agglutinin (UEA), and Dolichos biflorus agglutinin (DBA) did not bind to cell surfaces in vivo. Aldehyde fixation dramatically altered lectin binding patterns, resulting in unmasking and labeling of Con A, WGA, and DBA binding sites that were unavailable in vivo.