Five beta-tubulin isotypes are expressed differentially during chicken brain development. One of these isotypes is encoded by the gene c beta 4 and has been assigned to an isotypic family designated as Class III (beta III). In the nervous system of higher vertebrates, beta III is synthesized exclusively by neurons. A beta III-specific monoclonal antibody was used to determine when during chick embryogenesis c beta 4 is expressed, the cellular localization of beta III, and the number of charge variants (isoforms) into which beta III can be resolved by isoelectric focusing. On Western blots, beta III is first detectable at stages 12-13. Thereafter, the relative abundance of beta III in brain increases steadily, apparently in conjunction with the rate of neural differentiation. The isotype was not detectable in non-neural tissue extracts from older embryos (days 10-14) and hatchlings. Western blots of protein separated by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis (2D-PAGE) reveal that the number of beta III isoforms increases from one to three during neural development. This evidence indicates that beta III is a substrate for developmentally regulated, multiple-site posttranslational modification. Immunocytochemical studies reveal that while c beta 4 expression is restricted predominantly to the nervous system, it is transiently expressed in some embryonic structures. More importantly, in the nervous system, immunoreactive cells were located primarily in the non-proliferative marginal zone of the neural epithelia. Regions containing primarily mitotic neuroblasts were virtually unstained. This localization pattern indicates that c beta 4 expression occurs either during or immediately following terminal mitosis, and suggests that beta III may have a unique role during early neuronal differentiation and neurite outgrowth.