Recent progress in defining molecular components of pathways controlling early stages of myogenesis has been substantial, but regulatory factors that govern the striking functional specialization of adult skeletal muscle fibers in vertebrate organisms have not yet been identified. A more detailed understanding of the temporal and spatial patterns by which specialized fiber characteristics arise may provide clues to the identity of the relevant regulatory factors. In this study, we used immunohistochemical, in situ hybridization, and Northern blot analyses to examine the time course and spatial characteristics of expression of myoglobin protein and mRNA during development of the distal hindlimb in the mouse. In adult animals, myoglobin is expressed selectively in oxidative, mitochondria-rich, fatigue-resistant myofibers, and it provides a convenient marker for this particular subset of specialized fibers. We observed only minimal expression of myoglobin in the hindlimb prior to the second day after birth, but a rapid and large (50-fold) induction of this gene in the ensuing neonatal period. Myoglobin expression was limited, however, to fibers located centrally within the limb which coexpress myosin isoforms characteristic of type I, IIA, and IIX fibers. This induction of myoglobin expression within the early postnatal period was accompanied by increased expression of nuclear genes encoding mitochondrial proteins, and exhibited a time course similar to the upregulation of myoglobin and mitochondrial proteins, and exhibited a time course similar to the upregulation of myoglobin and mitochondrial protein expression that can be induced in adult muscle fibers by continuous motor nerve stimulation. This comparison suggests that progressive locomotor activity of neonatal animals may provide signals which trigger the development of the specialized features of oxidative, fatigue-resistant skeletal muscle fibers.