The spatiotemporal relationships between vinculin and talin in developing chicken gizzard smooth muscle were investigated. Immunofluorescence and immunoelectron-microscopic labeling revealed that both proteins are associated with membrane-bound dense plaques in muscle cells; however, the most intense labeling for vinculin was located rather closer to the membrane than that for talin. The localization of vinculin and talin in embryonic chicken gizzards indicated that both are primarily cytoplasmic during the first 2 embryonic weeks. Only around days 16-18 does talin apparently become associated with the plasma membrane, this being concomitant with the appearance of distinct myofilament-bound dense plaques. Vinculin, on the other hand, remains primarily cytoplasmic and appears in the plaques only 1-3 days after hatching. It is thus proposed that the interactions of the dense plaque with myofilaments or with the membrane do not depend on the presence of vinculin in the plaque. Electrophoretic analyses indicated that, during development, there is no major change in the differential expression of specific vinculin isoforms. Quantitative immunoblotting analysis indicated that the vinculin content (relative to total extracted protein) is virtually constant during the last week of embryonic life. However, within 3 days of hatching, the vinculin concentration increases remarkably to over twice the embryonic level, and then slowly increases until it reaches the adult levels, which are three to four times higher than the embryonic level. The concentration of metavinculin (a 160-Kd vinculin-related protein) showed only a limited increase after hatching. We discuss the possible roles of vinculin and talin in the assembly of membrane-bound dense plaques during the different phases of smooth-muscle development.