During the development of the rat sciatic nerve extensive proliferation of glial cells occurs, and there is a very substantial rearrangement of the cytoarchitecture as axons and Schwann cells assume relationships which lead to the formation of the myelinated and unmyelinated axons characteristic of adult nerve. The maturation of Schwann cells from Schwann cell precursors and the matching of Schwann cell numbers to axons is an important part of this process. We have therefore studied the proliferation of Schwann cell precursors and Schwann cells during the development of the rat sciatic nerve from embryonic day 14 to postnatal day 28 by combining bromodeoxyuridine injections of rats with double-label immunohistochemical techniques. The results reveal that DNA synthesis occurs in both Schwann cell precursors and Schwann cells throughout early nerve development. The labelling index is already substantial at embryonic day 14, but from embryonic day 17, when essentially all the glial cells have converted from precursor to Schwann cell phenotype, it rises sharply, peaking between embryonic day 19 and 20 before declining precipitously in the early postnatal period. This rapid decline in DNA synthesis coincides with the appearance of the myelin protein P0, and in individual cells DNA synthesis is incompatible with the expression of P0 protein. Nonmyelin-forming Schwann cells, which mature later in development, continue to synthesize DNA until at least postnatal day 15, but by day 28 essentially all Schwann cells in the nerve are quiescent.