Controversy persists concerning the origin of insulin in the central nervous system. While there has been convincing evidence in vitro to demonstrate the presence of neuronal insulin mRNA, conventional assays have failed to detect the same in whole brain preparations. Here we employed RNAse-protection and sensitive reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assays in attempts to detect insulin I and II mRNAs in rat brains obtained from different developmental stages. The RNAse-protection assay did not detect insulin I or insulin II transcripts in fetal (13 to 21 day gestation) or adult brains. RT-PCR, while detecting low amounts of insulin I transcripts in other extrapancreatic tissues such as the rat yolk sac and fetal liver previously shown to express insulin II, failed to detect insulin I in brain at any age examined. Insulin II mRNA was detected by RT-PCR in fetal, neonatal and adult rat brains, just as in yolk sac, fetal and adult livers. We conclude that while the duplicated insulin I gene is not expressed, the ancestral insulin II gene is expressed in fetal, neonatal and adult rat brains. Our observations support the concept of de novo brain insulin II synthesis beyond the pre-pancreatic stage of embryonic development.