Arrestins are adaptor proteins involved in homologous desensitization and trafficking of G protein-coupled receptors. Arrestins bind to activated phosphorylated receptors thus precluding further signal transduction. Two subtypes of non-visual arrestins, arrestin2 and arrestin3, have been cloned. Recently, specificity of various receptors to arrestins and differences in kinetics of receptor desensitization mediated by arrestins have been demonstrated. Both arrestins are expressed in the rat brain. However, quantitative assessment of their expression and detailed distribution are lacking. Here, we used quantitative ribonuclease protection assay and western blot to measure arrestin2 and arrestin3 mRNA and protein in the rat brain during postnatal development. In situ hybridization histochemistry was employed to study the detailed distribution of arrestin mRNAs in the adult and developing brain. Both arrestins were expressed from birth in all regions studied. Arrestin2 mRNA levels increased with development until the 14th postnatal day and then decreased, whereas arrestin2 protein levels continued to rise. Arrestin3 mRNA was maximal in neonates and then decreased, while arrestin3 protein changed little. In newborns and adults, the concentration of arrestin2 mRNA was two- to three-fold higher than that of arrestin3. In neonates, the excess of the arrestin2 protein over arrestin3 was commensurate with the excess of the arrestin2 mRNA (three-fold) but in the adult, the ratio was much higher (10-20-fold). Each arrestin demonstrated a unique distribution, although in many areas there was overlap suggesting co-localization. Both arrestins were highly expressed in the cortex and hippocampus. Arrestin2 was abundant in the thalamus, particularly in the anterior, intralaminar, and midline nuclei, while arrestin3 was abundant in the medial habenular. Arrestin3 was relatively abundant in most hypothalamic nuclei and extended amygdala. In the developing brain, arrestin3 was highly expressed in the subventricular zone, whereas arrestin2 was more abundant in differentiated areas. Our data demonstrate that arrestin2 is the major arrestin subtype in the rat brain, although arrestin3 is expressed in specific cell populations including postnatal proliferative zones. Because each arrestin appears to mediate receptor desensitization in a specific way, different kinetics of trafficking of the same receptor should be expected in different cells due to varying arrestin2/arrestin3 ratios. Thus, the response of receptors to specific drugs stimulating or blocking these receptors may depend on complement of arrestins in their target cells.