The appearance of myelin-specific glycolipids and of myelin basic protein was studied with regard to the detailed anatomy of the rat cervical spinal cord. The expression of these constituents in particular fibre tracts and regions occurs at specific times of development between postnatal days 1 and 14. This mosaic-like appearance started in the ventral funiculus (day 1) followed by fasciculus cuneatus and ventro-lateral funiculus (day 2), and fasciculus gracilis and dorso-lateral funiculus (days 3 to 4). Cortico-spinal tract (day 11), Lissauer tract (day 14) and the commissures started to acquire myelin very late. In the grey matter, myelin constituents appeared around days 11 to 14 in a patchy pattern. These results support a concept of highly local interactions regulating oligodendrocyte differentiation. In addition, a general rostro-caudal gradient of myelin development exists in the spinal cord, which is independent of the ascending or descending nature of the fibre tracts. Appearance of myelin constitutents in the caudal spinal cord was not prevented by a neonatal transection at mid-thoracic levels.