For nerve cells to develop their highly polarized form, appropriate structural molecules must be targeted to either axons or dendrites. This could be achieved by the synthesis of structural proteins in the cell body and their sorting to either axons or dendrites by specific transport mechanisms. For dendrites, an alternative possibility is that proteins could be synthesized locally in the dendritic cytoplasm. This is an attractive idea because it would allow regulation of the production of structural molecules in response to local demand during dendritic development. The feasibility of dendritic protein synthesis is suggested both by the existence of dendritic polyribosomes and by the recent demonstration that newly synthesized RNA is transported into the dendrites of neurons differentiating in culture. However, to date there has been no demonstration of the selective synthesis of an identified dendrite-specific protein in the dendritic cytoplasm. Here, we use in situ hybridization with specific complementary DNA probes to show that messenger RNA for the dendrite-specific microtubule-associated protein MAP2 (refs 3-5) is present in dendrites in the developing brain. By contrast the mRNA for tubulin, a protein present in both axons and dendrites is located exclusively in neuronal cell bodies.