Trophic factors are being increasingly recognized as important contributors to growth, differentiation, and maintenance of viability within the mammalian nervous system during development. Pleiotrophin (PTN) is a secreted 18-kDa heparin binding protein that stimulates mitogenesis and angiogenesis and neurite and glial process outgrowth guidance activities in vitro. We localized the sites and time course of expression of the Ptn gene and its protein product in developing and adult mouse nervous system. Expression of the Ptn gene was first observed at embryo day 8.5 (E8.5). At E12.5, transcripts of the Ptn gene were localized in developing neuroepithelium at sites of active cell division in the spinal cord and brain. At E15.5, transcripts were found in the somata of some but not all neurons and glia whereas in the adult its pattern of expression was nearly exclusively restricted to the brain. The PTN protein was found almost entirely in association with the axonal tracts during development and in adults. Furthermore, as opposed to the finding of PTN in both central and peripheral nervous systems during development, PTN was not expressed beyond the exit where axonal tracts become the peripheral nervous system in adults. At all sites and times examined, the somata that contained Ptn transcripts corresponded with the axonal tracts that contained the PTN protein. The results establish that Ptn is expressed in early development at sites of active mitogenesis in developing neuroepithelium and later in both glial cells and neurons at sites of neuronal and glial process formation in developing axonal tracts. The findings establish a correspondence in the localization of PTN within the nervous system at sites of normal developmental processes that correlate with the functional activities of PTN previously described in vitro.