A battery of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) against brain cell nuclei has been generated by repeated immunizations. One of these, mAb A60, recognizes a vertebrate nervous system- and neuron-specific nuclear protein that we have named NeuN (Neuronal Nuclei). The expression of NeuN is observed in most neuronal cell types throughout the nervous system of adult mice. However, some major cell types appear devoid of immunoreactivity including cerebellar Purkinje cells, olfactory bulb mitral cells, and retinal photoreceptor cells. NeuN can also be detected in neurons in primary cerebellar cultures and in retinoic acid-stimulated P19 embryonal carcinoma cells. Immunohistochemically detectable NeuN protein first appears at developmental timepoints which correspond with the withdrawal of the neuron from the cell cycle and/or with the initiation of terminal differentiation of the neuron. NeuN is a soluble nuclear protein, appears as 3 bands (46-48 x 10(3) M(r)) on immunoblots, and binds to DNA in vitro. The mAb crossreacts immunohistochemically with nervous tissue from rats, chicks, humans, and salamanders. This mAb and the protein recognized by it serve as an excellent marker for neurons in the central and peripheral nervous systems in both the embryo and adult, and the protein may be important in the determination of neuronal phenotype.