Three murine peroxisome-proliferator-activated-receptor (PPAR) genes were localised to chromosome 15 (PPAR alpha), chromosome 17 (PPAR beta) and chromosome 6 (PPAR gamma). The expression of the three PPAR RNAs was determined using a specific RNase protection assay. In liver RNA, PPAR alpha was expressed at the highest level, with 20-fold lower levels of PPAR beta, and very low levels of PPAR gamma. The three PPAR RNAs showed no sex-specific differences in expression, and the levels of these transcripts were unaffected by treatment of mice with testosterone or the potent peroxisome proliferator, methylclofenapate. In agreement with this data, the level of PPAR alpha protein in liver was unchanged after treatment of mice with methylclofenapate. Investigation of the tissue-specific distribution revealed that the PPAR alpha RNA was expressed at highest levels in liver, to moderate levels in kidney and brown adipose tissue, and at low levels elsewhere. PPAR beta was expressed at moderate levels in liver, and lower levels in other tissues, including brown adipose tissue. In contrast, PPAR gamma RNA was expressed at low levels in liver or epididymal white adipose tissue and at very low levels elsewhere, but was expressed at high levels in brown adipose tissue. The tissue distribution of these receptors suggests an important role in lipid metabolism and toxicity for individual members of the PPAR family. The expression of PPAR alpha and PPAR beta RNAs was examined in 13 strains of mice, and the levels of expression varied within a fourfold range. Polymorphism in the size of PPAR alpha RNA from Swiss-Webster mice was detected, and shown to be due to a 2-bp mutation in the 3' non-coding region of PPAR alpha in Swiss Webster mice.