The localization of versican, a large hyaluronate-binding fibroblast proteoglycan, was studied in rat prenatal and postnatal development. In adult rat white matter and cerebellum, the distribution of versican was identical to that previously reported for brain-specific glial hyaluronate-binding protein (GHAP). Versican was also found in gray matter where it formed characteristic coats around large neurons. It was also found in peripheral tissues, namely, kidney medulla, myotendinous junctions, and endoneurial and endomysial sheaths. In rat embryo the most notable finding was the presence of large amounts of versican immunoreactive material in precartilaginous mesenchyma. In embryonal CNS, versican was mainly confined to the marginal zone on the surface of the cerebral hemispheres. Versican expression mainly occurred postnatally in brain and spinal cord. In spinal cord white matter, versican immunoreactivity was already present in 3-day-old rats and preceded the appearance of GHAP, which was first detected on day 13 after the onset of myelination. Versican expression was markedly delayed in gray matter. The characteristic perineuronal coats were first observed on day 21 in the cerebral cortex. It is concluded that, with the exception of hyaluronate, brain extracellular matrix (ECM) is mainly produced postnatally and that the ECM protein produced by brain cells, most likely astrocytes, is similar to that produced by precartilaginous mesenchyma.