The levels of the retinal mRNAs encoding opsin, the alpha subunit of rod transducin (T alpha), S-antigen (S-ag) and the gamma subunit of rod-specific cGMP-phosphodiesterase (cGMP-PDE) were measured in rats reared in cyclic light or darkness and after adaptation for different periods of time to the opposite light environment. We found that rats changed from cyclic light to darkness, gradually increased their retinal content of opsin and T alpha mRNAs but decreased their levels of S-ag mRNA. The reverse results were obtained when rats were changed from darkness to cyclic light. In contrast, the levels of retinal cGMP-PDE gamma mRNA remained unchanged in animals adapted to either of the two rearing light conditions. Our results indicate that some mRNAs encoding proteins associated with the cGMP cascade are responsive to environmental lighting and may be involved in the long term light or dark adaptive processes.