The phenomenon of mRNA sorting to defined subcellular domains is observed in diverse organisms such as yeast and man. It is now becoming increasingly clear that specific transport of mRNAs to extrasomal locations in nerve cells of the central and peripheral nervous system may play an important role in nerve cell development and synaptic plasticity. Although the majority of mRNAs that are expressed in a given neuron are confined to the cell somata, some transcript species are specifically delivered to dendrites and/or, albeit less frequently, to the axonal domain. The physiological role and the molecular mechanisms of mRNA compartmentalization is now being investigated extensively. Even though most of the fundamental aspects await to be fully characterized, a few interesting data are emerging. In particular, there are a number of different subcellular distribution patterns of different RNA species in a given neuronal cell type and RNA compartmentalization may differ depending on the electrical activity of nerve cells. Furthermore, RNA transport is different in neurons of different developmental stages. Considerable evidence is now accumulating that mRNA sorting, at least to dendrites and the initial axonal segment, enables local synthesis of key proteins that are detrimental for synaptic function, nerve cell development and the establishment and maintenance of nerve cell polarity. The molecular determinants specifying mRNA compartmentalization to defined microdomains of nerve cells are just beginning to be unravelled. Targeting appears to be determined by sequence elements residing in the mRNA molecule to which proteins bind in a manner to direct these transcripts along cytoskeletal components to their site of function where they may be anchored to await transcriptional activation upon demand.