Translation in vitro of membrane-bound polyribosomal mRNAs from rat brain has shown several to be developmentally regulated [Hall & Lim (1981) Biochem. J. 196, 327-336]. Here we describe the isolation and characterization of cDNAs corresponding to two such brain mRNAs. One cDNA (M444) hybrid-selected a 0.95 kb mRNA directing the synthesis in vitro of a 21 kDa pI-6.3 polypeptide, which was processed in vitro by microsomal membranes. A second cDNA (M1622) hybridized to a 2.2 kb mRNA directing the synthesis of a 55 kDa pI-5.8 polypeptide. Both mRNAs were specific to membrane-bound polyribosomes. Restriction maps of the corresponding genomic DNA sequences are consistent with both being single copy. The two mRNAs were present in astrocytic and neuronal cultures, but not in liver or spleen or in neuroblastoma or glioma cells. The two mRNAs were differently regulated during brain development. In the developing forebrain there was a gradual and sustained increase in M444 mRNA during the first 3 weeks post partum, whereas M1622 mRNA appeared earlier and showed no further increase after day 10. In the cerebellum the developmental increase in M444 mRNA was biphasic. After a small initial increase there was a decrease in this mRNA at day 10, coincident with high amounts of M1622 mRNA. This was followed by a second, larger, increase in M444 mRNA, when amounts of M1622 mRNA were constant. The contrasting changes in these two mRNAs in the developing cerebellum are of particular interest, since they occur during an intensive period of cell proliferation, migration and altering neural connectivity. As these mRNAs are specific to differentiated neural tissue, they represent useful molecular markers for studying brain differentiation.