HPLC analysis of guanidinium hydrochloride extracts of neonatal and adult rat brain revealed a polypeptide that is present in high concentration in the immature nervous system, but whose levels decline dramatically in the adult. This polypeptide has been isolated and its complete amino acid sequence determined by gas-phase Edman degradation following specific chemical and enzymatic cleavages. The molecule is identified as thymosin beta 10, a member of a multigene family that encodes a structurally conserved series of small acidic polypeptides of uncertain function. Thymosin beta 10 is present in the developing nervous system as early as embryonic day 9. Levels subsequently increase to peak values between embryonic day 15 and postpartum day 3, before falling to adult values (about a 20-fold reduction) by postpartum day 14. The elevated levels of thymosin beta 10 in fetal and neonatal brain correlate with high levels of thymosin beta 10 mRNA, whereas the low values of the polypeptide in the adult and juvenile are mirrored by an approximate 15-fold reduction in specific mRNA. In comparison, the levels of thymosin beta 4 polypeptide, a homologue of thymosin beta 10, only decline by about 20% during the same developmental period. However, the mRNA encoding thymosin beta 4 is elevated in fetal brain, and its levels decrease approximately four-fold to a stable value around the time of birth. The reason for this discrepancy between thymosin beta 4 protein and mRNA levels is unknown. Thymosin beta 10 can also be detected by HPLC in fetal liver, where levels are approximately 5% of those in brain. In liver, thymosin beta 10 also declines following birth. It is concluded that beta-thymosin expression (as measured by steady-state mRNA and polypeptide levels) is both up- and down-regulated during different phases of maturation of the mammalian nervous system.