A cDNA clone encoding rat basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) was used as a hybridization probe to determine the level of bFGF mRNA during rat brain development as well as in different adult rat brain regions. In the rat brain, a 3.7kb bFGF mRNA was detected together with lower levels of two minor bFGF mRNA species of 1.8kb and 1.5kb, respectively. The 3.7kb bFGF mRNA was detected in the rat brain already at embryonic day 16, the earliest time point tested. The embryonic brain contained 1.5 to 2 times higher levels of the 3.7kb bFGF mRNA than the adult brain. The amount of the 3.7kb bFGF mRNA in the adult rat brain was approximately 50 times higher than the level of beta-nerve growth factor mRNA in the rat brain. bFGF mRNA was found in all 12 brain regions tested in the adult rat brain with the highest level in colliculi, cerebral cortex, thalamus, and olfactory bulb. The lowest levels were found in pons and medulla oblongata. All three bFGF mRNA species showed the same regional distribution in the brain. In contrast to nerve growth factor mRNA, the level of bFGF mRNA in the neonatal hippocampus was slightly decreased 10 days after a cholinergic denervation by transection of the fimbria-fornix.