Antibodies against human Rad51 protein were used to examine the distribution of Rad51 on meiotic chromatin in mouse spermatocytes and oocytes as well as chicken oocytes during sequential stages of meiosis. We observed the following dynamic changes in distribution of Rad51 during meiosis: (1) in early leptotene nuclei there are multiple, apparently randomly distributed, foci that by late leptonema become organized into tracks of foci. (2) These foci persist into zygonema, but most foci are now localized on Rad51-positive axes that correspond to lateral elements of the synaptonemal complex. As homologs synapse foci from homologous axes fuse. The distribution and involvement of Rad51 foci as contact points between homologs suggest that they may be components to early recombination nodules. (3) As pachynema progresses the number of foci drops dramatically; the temporal occurrence (mice) and physical and numerical distribution of foci on axes (chickens) suggest that they may be a component of late recombination nodules. (4) In early pachynema there are numerous Rad51 foci on the single axis of the X (mouse spermatocytes) or the Z (chicken oocytes) chromosomes that neither pair, nor recombine. (5) In late pachynema in mouse spermatocytes, but not oocytes, the Rad51 signal is preferentially enhanced at both ends of all the bivalents. As bivalents in spermatocytes, but not oocytes, begin to desynapse at diplonema they are often held together at these Rad51-positive termini. These observations parallel observations that recombination rates are exceptionally high near chromosome ends in male but not female eutherian mammals. (6) From diakinesis through metaphase I, Rad51 protein is detected as low-intensity fluorescent doublets that localize with CREST-specific antigens (kinetochores), suggesting that Rad51 participates, at least as a structural component of the materials involved, in sister kinetochore cohesiveness. Finally, the changes in Rad51 distribution during meiosis do not appear to be species specific, but intrinsic to the meiotic process.