Dystonia musculorum (dt) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder in mice. The dt gene product, dystonin, contains the bullous pemphigoid antigen 1 coding region at its C-terminus and an actin binding domain at its N-terminus. We demonstrate that dystonin expression throughout mouse development predominates in neurons of the cranial and spinal sensory ganglia. These structures are the most severely affected in dystonic mice which could explain their severe sensory ataxia. Since we show expression in sensory neurons with small and large axoplasmic volumes, but degeneration is restricted primarily to the latter type, we suggest that caliber and size of the axon is an important factor in the disease process. Dystonin is also expressed in the extrapyramidal motor system and in the cerebellum. Functional defects in these cell types could account for the dystonic symptoms of dt mice not explained by simple sensory denervation. We also detect dystonin expression in motor neurons most of which are unaffected by the degenerative process in dt mice.