Expression of the c-fyn proto-oncogene was analysed in the developing and adult rat brain by subcellular fractionation and immunocytochemistry using polyclonal antibodies specific for its protein product (p59fyn). Immunoperoxidase staining revealed widespread localization of p59fyn in developing axonal tracts throughout the fetal (E18) rat brain. fyn immunoreactivity was not observed in most axon-rich regions of the adult brain, but continued to be expressed at elevated levels in the adult olfactory and vomeronasal systems. At other sites in the adult rat brain, fyn immunoreactivity was restricted to cell bodies of neuronal subpopulations, especially those in brain stem and hypothalamic nuclei, and to subpopulations of glial cells along axonal tracts in the medulla, optic nerve and white matter of the spinal cord. In the peripheral nervous system, fyn staining was also prominent in Schwann cells. Subcellular fractionation of fetal and adult rat brain confirmed the immunocytochemical localization, demonstrating an enrichment of p59fyn in membranes from a fetal brain fraction containing nerve growth cones, and lower levels in adult brain where there was only a small enrichment in synaptosomal membranes. The developmental regulation of p59fyn suggests that the fyn tyrosine kinase may serve separate cellular roles in axonal growth and specialized functions of mature neurons and glia.