In situ hybridization histochemistry reveals localized expression of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) alpha 2 subunit mRNA restricted to the lateral spiriform nucleus (SpL) of the chick diencephalon. The alpha 2 nAChR transcripts are not detected in immature SpL neurons at 4.5-5 days of embryonic development. They begin to accumulate in the SpL at embryonic day 11 and increase until the newborn stage. Specific alpha 2 cDNA amplification by the polymerase chain reaction shows that during this period, the absolute content of alpha 2 mRNA increases about 20-fold. The expression of the alpha 2 nAChR gene is thus developmentally regulated and appears concomitant with the entry of cholinergic fibers into the SpL, as demonstrated by choline acetyltransferase immunohistochemistry.