To test the hypothesis that embryonic brain cells utilize a creatine phosphate energy shuttle, we examined the pattern of creatine kinase (CK) isoform expression and localization in the fetal rat brain. Moderate levels of CK activity are present at embryonic day 14 (7 U/mg protein) and decrease slightly until 3 days postpartum followed by a rapid, fourfold up-regulation to adult levels by 1 month (18 U/mg protein). In parallel with changes in enzyme activity, there is a biphasic and coordinate pattern of expression of brain-type CK (BCK) and ubiquitous mitochondrial CK (uMtCK) determined by nondenaturing electrophoresis and immunoblot analysis. The localization of CK isoforms was examined by immunocytochemistry, and, during the fetal period, BCK and uMtCK immunoreactivity was detected throughout the central and peripheral nervous system, especially in neuroepithelial regions of the cerebral vesicles and spinal cord. In large cells within the olfactory neuroepithelium and ventral spinal cord, differential compartmentation of CK isoforms was evident, with BCK localized primarily in cell nuclei, whereas uMtCK immunoreactivity was present in the cell body (but not within nuclei). In olfactory bulb neuroepithelium, both isoforms were expressed in the middle zone of the germinal layer associated with DNA synthesis. In embryonic skeletal and cardiac muscle, which also express BCK, the same compartmentation of BCK was seen, with BCK localized primarily in the cell nucleus of cardiac and skeletal myoblasts. These results demonstrate a coordinate pattern of expression and compartmentation of BCK and uMtCK isoforms in the fetal brain that, in some cells, provides the anatomic basis for a nuclear energy shuttle.