The messenger RNA (mRNA) that encodes alpha subunit of the guanosine triphosphate-binding protein transducin (T alpha) and T alpha immunoreactivity were localized and measured in the rat retina during the light-dark cycle with in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. Both T alpha mRNA and T alpha immunoreactivity were observed only in photoreceptors. Within the photoreceptor T alpha mRNA was present primarily in the inner segments and to a lesser extent in the outer nuclear layer at all times during the day and night. However, the distribution of T alpha immunoreactivity varied profoundly with the light-dark cycle; during the day, T alpha immunoreactivity was highest in the inner segments, and at night the outer segments were more immunoreactive. The amounts of T alpha mRNA and T alpha immunoreactivity also depended on the light-dark cycle. Levels of T alpha mRNA were high immediately before and after lights on; levels were low for the rest of the light-dark cycle. During the day, T alpha immunoreactivity increased in the inner segments following the increase in T alpha mRNA. After the lights were turned off, T alpha immunoreactivity decreased in the inner segments and increased in the outer segments. Thus, it appears that T alpha is synthesized in the inner segments after a morning increase in T alpha mRNA. Newly synthesized T alpha remains in the inner segments until it is transported to the outer segments at night, where it may be involved in the increase in the sensitivity of photoreceptor rods at night.