Casein mRNA was isolated and partially purified from RNA extracts of rat lactating mammary glands and translated in a teterologous cell-free protein synthesizing system derived from wheat germ. Casein mRNA activity was assayed by immunoprecipitation using a specific antiserum prepared against a mixture of the purified rat caseins. Properties of rat casein mRNA were examined using a variety of sizing techniques, including chromatography on Sepharose 4B, sedimentation on sucrose gradients after heat denaturation, and electrophoresis on 2.5% agarose gels in 6 M urea. Casein mRNA activity was found in an 8-16S region after gradient centrifugation with the peak occurring at 10.5 S. In addition, the binding of rat casein mRNA to dT-cellulose was examined. Only 40% of the total casein mRNA activity was selectively retained. A partial purification of casein mRNA was accomplished by a combination of these sizing and affinity chromatography techniques. In the purified preparations casein mRNA activity comprises approximately 90% of the total mRNA activity. Characterization of this material by agarose gel electrophoresis revealed two main bands of RNA at approximately 12 and 16 S, both containing casein mRNA activity. These mRNAs were of the correct size to code for two of the principal rat caseins of approximately 25,000 and 42,000 molecular weights. Casein mRNA and total mRNA activities were then compared in total RNA extracts at various stages of normal mammary gland development in the rat, i.e. during pregnancy, lactation, and involution following weaning. A selective induction of casein mRNA activity compared to total mRNA activity was found to occur during pregnancy and lactation. Moreover, a selective loss of activity was also observed during mammary gland involution. A surprisingly high level of casein mRNA activity was found in RNA extracts from early and midpregnant mammary glands.