Summary. The numbers of Sertoli and pre-meiotic germ cells in the developing rabbit testis were investigated as an initial step in determining the physiological meaning of the control of cell number in the testis by apoptosis. Sections were stained immunohistochemically for the detection of apoptotic cells and counterstained with haematoxylin. The number resulting from subtraction of the number of apoptotic cells from the total cell number was defined as the viable cell number. The number of viable pre-meiotic germ cells in the adluminal compartment of seminiferous tubules decreased during the pre-natal period, although neither apoptotic nor necrotic figures were detected. After birth, the numbers of total and apoptotic Sertoli and pre-meiotic germ cells increased, maintaining a stable ratio of their viable cell populations until the induction of meiosis. During induction of meiosis, the increase in the number of viable Sertoli cells was significantly accelerated because of the rapid decrease in the number of apoptotic Sertoli cells. Just after spermatids were formed the number of viable spermatogonia increased, reflecting an active supply of differentiated spermatogonia entering meiosis. In conclusion, apoptosis of Sertoli and pre-meiotic germ cells plays an important role in the acquisition of a suitable ratio of both cell types, and in providing intratubular environments for further progression of spermatogenesis, by controlling numbers of both cell types during the post-natal period.