The molecular components of olfactory reception and regulation are expressed in a tissue-specific manner. The functional attributes mediated by some of these proteins have been previously shown to display a well-defined developmental emergence during the last week of rat gestation. To gain a better understanding of the relations between chemosensory function and neuronal development, we studied the ontogeny of 7 olfactory-specific genes by quantitative PCR. Relative levels of expression during rat development were determined for each gene, starting at embryonic day 15 (E15) and ending at postnatal day 35 (P35). In addition, the level of expression of the different genes was quantified in juvenile rats. The onset of expression for olfactory receptors and the olfactory cation channel at embryonic day 19 (E19) coincides with the functional maturation of the sensory neurons. Olfactory G-protein and adenylyl cyclase are expressed earlier (approximately E16) while olfactory biotransformation enzymes appear later (E20-E21), just before birth. The sequence of developmental expression of olfactory receptor genes has possible implications to the establishment of neuronal connectivity in this sensory pathway.