The levels of the mRNAs encoding sodium channels I, II and III in various regions of the developing rat central nervous system (from embryonal day 10 to postnatal day 90) have been examined by blot hybridization analysis with specific probes. The three sodium channel mRNAs exhibit different temporal and regional expression patterns. The expression of sodium channel I mRNA rises after a lag phase to adult levels during the second and third postnatal weeks with stronger increases in caudal regions of the brain and in spinal cord. Sodium channel II mRNA increases steadily until the first postnatal week, keeping high adult levels in rostral regions of the brain or reaching low adult levels after the second postnatal week in most caudal regions of the brain and in spinal cord; cerebellum shows low levels during the first two postnatal weeks but high adult levels. In all regions, sodium channel III mRNA attains maximum levels around birth and decreases during the first and second postnatal weeks to reach variable low adult levels. These results suggest that sodium channel III is expressed predominantly at fetal and early postnatal stages and sodium channel I predominantly at late postnatal stages, whereas sodium channel II is expressed throughout the developmental stages studied with greater regional variability.