Perineuronal nets (PNNs) are dense extracellular matrix (ECM) structures that form around many neuronal cell bodies and dendrites late in development. They contain several chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans (CSPGs), hyaluronan, link proteins and tenascin-R. Their time of appearance correlates with the ending of the critical period for plasticity, and they have been implicated in this process. The distribution of PNNs in the spinal cord was examined using Wisteria floribunda agglutinin lectin and staining for chondroitin sulphate stubs after chondroitinase digestion. Double labelling with the neuronal marker, NeuN, showed that PNNs were present surrounding approximately 30% of motoneurons in the ventral horn, 50% of large interneurons in the intermediate grey and 20% of neurons in the dorsal horn. These PNNs formed in the second week of postnatal development. Immunohistochemical staining demonstrated that the PNNs contain a mixture of CSPGs, hyaluronan, link proteins and tenascin-R. Of the CSPGs, aggrecan was present in all PNNs while neurocan, versican and phosphacan/RPTPbeta were present in some but not all PNNs. In situ hybridization showed that aggrecan and cartilage link protein (CRTL 1) and brain link protein-2 (BRAL 2) are produced by neurons. PNN-bearing neurons express hyaluronan synthase, and this enzyme and phosphacan/RPTPbeta may attach PNNs to the cell surface. During postnatal development the expression of link protein and aggrecan mRNA is up-regulated at the time of PNN formation, and these molecules may therefore trigger their formation.