Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is an X-linked recessive disorder resulting in progressive degeneration of the muscle. It affects about 1 in 3,500 male children. Becker's muscular dystrophy is a less severe disease allelic to DMD. Some 30% of DMD patients suffer from various degrees of mental retardation. The giant DMD gene spans about 2,000 kilobases and codes for a 14-kilobase messenger RNA and a protein of molecular weight 427,000. DMD mRNA is most abundant in skeletal and cardiac muscle and less so in smooth muscle. We reported that the expression of the gene is developmentally regulated during the differentiation of primary muscle cultures and in myogenic cell lines in a way similar to the expression of muscle-specific genes such as myosin light chain 2 and skeletal muscle actin. Similar results have been obtained with human primary myogenic cells. Significant levels of DMD mRNA are found in brain tissue. Here we show that the transcript of the DMD gene and the amino terminal of the encoded protein differ in brain and muscle. The 5' ends of these mRNA species are derived from different exons. The results suggest that the two mRNA types are transcribed from different promoters.