The rate of synthesis and the concentrations of a variety of messenger RNA sequences have been compared between adult mouse liver cells and cells in other adult tissues, and between cells in fetal and neonatal liver. The sequences were distinguished as "liver-specific" or "common" in a previous report, where liver was compared with brain cells and cultured cells. Most of the liver-specific mRNAs are greatly decreased or absent in a large group of other adult mouse tissues. In two cases, kidney shares mRNA sequences with liver. The levels of the common mRNAs varied from two to fivefold in various tissues. For the liver-specific mRNAs, the transcription rates in nuclei from adult tissues and from fetal liver showed a good correspondence to the presence and the level of mRNA. However, most of the common RNA sequences were transcribed at similar rates in all nuclei despite their different cytoplasmic concentrations. In addition, two liver-specific RNAs were transcribed in fetal liver nuclei but were not present as mRNA. Thus, the presence of tissue-specific mRNAs in adult cells is based first (and probably most importantly) on transcriptional control, but several instances were observed where post-transcriptional control also contributes to the level of mRNA.