The rat cerebellum was previously shown to contain two polypeptides, a hexadecapeptide termed cerebellin and an apparent metabolite des-Ser1-cerebellin. The cerebellins have a high degree of sequence homology with residues 625-641 of the polyimmunoglobulin (polyIg)-receptor adjacent to its membrane-spanning domain. Since the cerebellins are localized in Purkinje cells and enriched in synaptosomes, this might indicate that cerebellin is a specific proteolytic cleavage fragment of a synaptic protein involved in the transcytosis of an unknown ligand. Using a specific cerebellin radioimmunoassay described here combined with high-performance liquid chromatography, cerebellin immunoreactivity could be demonstrated in the cerebella of all vertebrates examined from man to chicken. Cerebellin immunoreactivity is localized to Purkinje cells in the rat, mouse, and chicken. Furthermore, cerebellin expression is under developmental regulation in both the chicken and mouse. In addition, neurodevelopmental mutations of mice that eliminate granule cells cause a large deficit in cerebellin levels, suggesting some form of transneuronal regulation.