Immunoblotting and immunohistochemical techniques have been used to characterize the developmental changes in the distribution and relative quantity of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), an important mitogen and growth regulator for glial (and possibly neuronal) cells. PDGF exists as a dimer of two chains, A and B, and antibodies which are relatively specific for one chain or the other can be used to localize PDGF isoforms during development. We have also studied the distribution of PDGF receptor beta subunit (PDGF-R beta)-like immunoreactivity using an antibody probe. All 3 isoforms of PDGF are found in neural structures during development, beginning at about the midpoint of embryogenesis. Immunoblotting studies confirm the presence of PDGF isoforms in brain during embryonic and postnatal development, with the distribution and relative abundance of each isoform appearing to be independently regulated. Similarly, immunoblotting studies have verified the relative abundance and specificity of PDGF receptor beta subunit. The immunohistochemical findings confirm and extend these biochemical observations. Each PDGF chain (A and B) has a discrete localization during nervous system development, and the immunohistochemical distribution of PDGF-R beta is distinct from each of the PDGF isoforms. PDGF A-chain (localized with an antibody to PDGF(AA) dimers) appears to be found in growth cones of developing neurons in mid-embryonic brain development. By 11.5 days post-conception (embryonic day 11.5, E11.5) to E12, PDGF isoforms are found in apparent neurons in the basal plate (future ventral horn) of spinal cord. PDGF-R beta-like immunoreactivity is localized to the boundary cap region of the developing spinal cord at the same age. Similarly, at E13.5, all 3 PDGF isoforms are found, to varying extents, within cells of the dorsal root ganglia and trigeminal ganglia. At the same developmental stage, PDGF receptor protein is most prevalent in the nerves accompanying these structures. By E15, both PDGF isoform and PDGF receptor beta subunit immunoreactivity have declined to near-background levels in the sensory ganglia, while in the spinal cord and developing forebrain, levels of all PDGF-related proteins remain high.