Neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) has mitogenic and neurogenic activities on distinct central and peripheral nervous system (CNS and PNS) progenitors in avian embryos. It was therefore important to characterize in detail the expression pattern of TrkC, a high-affinity receptor for NT-3, during nervous system ontogeny. We report that trkC-encoding transcripts are expressed in the CNS primordium in several spatiotemporal distinct waves. trkC mRNA becomes evident in the dividing neuroepithelium where it is expressed homogeneously. A subsequent enhancement of the signal in dorsal areas of the neural tube occurs concomitant with the migration of neural crest cells from the CNS. Expression of trkC mRNA is then reduced in the germinal epithelium while progressively appearing on postmitotic neurons at the periphery of the neural tube. At a time preceeding the onset of normal motoneuron death, trkC signal is transiently undetectable in the ventral third of the neural tube. Diffuse expression in the spinal cord is resumed on embryonic day (E) 7. Subsets of premigratory and migrating neural crest progenitors also express the trkC receptor. Intense trkC signal is then evident throughout the newly organizing dorsal root ganglia (DRG), and becomes later restricted to defined postmitotic neuronal populations. Cranial ganglia also express the trkC gene from early stages of gangliogenesis. Furthermore, whereas the primary sympathetic ganglia show trkC mRNA, in the secondary ganglia a barely detectable signal could be observed. The dynamic up- and down-regulations of trkC reported here to occur both in the CNS and PNS primordia correspond to diverse, though only partially known, developmental processes. Taken together, these results support the notion that the NT-3-TrkC complex mediates diverse functions during neural development.