Studies from this laboratory have shown that the physiological expression of the Na+/K+ pump in primary cultures of rat skeletal muscle increases with development. The molecular mechanisms underlying these changes are not known. Therefore, we have examined the expression of alpha and beta subunits of the Na+/K+ pump at both the protein and mRNA levels during myogenesis of primary skeletal muscle cell cultures obtained from newborn rats. Protein isoforms were identified by Western blotting techniques with specific monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies and subunit mRNA was studied with specific cDNA probes. Freshly isolated skeletal muscle from newborn rats expressed both alpha1 and alpha2 protein subunits. From day 1 after plating, primary cultures expressed only the alpha1 protein isoform. In contrast, both beta1 and beta2 isoforms were expressed in freshly isolated muscle and in primary cultures, with beta1 expression being stronger in both preparations. Studies on RNA expression showed that mRNA for alpha1, alpha2, beta1, and beta2 isoforms was identified both in freshly isolated muscle and after plating of cells in culture. These findings indicate that the lack of alpha2 protein expression in primary muscle cell cultures reflects a form of posttranscriptional regulation. There did not appear to be a quantitative difference in isoform expression as a function of age or of fusion in spite of developmental increases in Na+/K+ pump activity and its dependence on cell fusion. The lack of expression of the alpha2 subunit isoform suggests that the developmental changes in physiological expression of the Na+/K+ pump in primary cultures of skeletal muscle may be attributable either to the changes in activity of the alpha1 subunit or to differential activities of alphabeta complexes involving either of the beta subunits.