In the present study we analyze the events which occur during the early stages of astrogliogenesis by examining the pattern of both GFAP and vimentin gene expression and their corresponding immunoreactive proteins during rat brain development. This study was carried out "in vivo" (whole brain) and "in vitro" (primary culture of radial glia) using immunofluorescence, immunoblotting, and Northern blot analysis. Our results demonstrate that although GFAP immunostaining appeared late in gestation and at day 5 in radial glia cultures, GFAP mRNA expression was first detected, at very low levels, on fetal (F) day 15 and increased to F21. During postnatal development a striking increase in GFAP and its encoding messenger occurs. In contrast, the levels of vimentin and its mRNA expression were very high during the fetal stage (F15 to F21). Thereafter vimentin expression declined during postnatal (P) development until P21 and then remained constant at adult levels. In contrast, an increase in vimentin expression was observed in glial cells throughout the entire culture period. The biological significance of the developmental patterns of GFAP and vimentin expression in astroglial cells. during brain development is discussed.