The low abundance of soluble neurofilament (NF) subunits in mature axons has suggested that newly synthesized NF proteins rapidly assemble into highly stable polymers and associate with the Triton X-100-insoluble cytoskeleton. The dynamic nature of these subunit associations in vivo remains unresolved, and the applicability of this assembly model to NFs in other neuronal compartments or to developing neurons is unknown. Here, we report that a unique pool of Triton X-100-soluble, extensively phosphorylated, high molecular weight NF subunits (NF-H, or H-200) are abundantly expressed in the mouse CNS during early postnatal development and persist in the perikaryal compartment of some mature neurons. Triton-soluble H-200 subunits appeared at postnatal day 14 (P14) and remained high through P60, beyond which the percentage declined to marginal levels by P120. Medium and low molecular weight NF (NF-M and NF-L, respectively) were at all times only detectable within the cytoskeleton. Comparison of soluble and cytoskeleton-associated H-200 immunoreactivity indicated that certain phosphorylation-dependent epitopes were confined to the cytoskeleton. Pulse-chase radiolabeling analyses in optic pathway demonstrated that some Triton-soluble NF-H subunits are extensively phosphorylated within retinal perikarya before they are incorporated into Triton-insoluble structures. These findings indicate that the assembly behaviors of NF-H differ substantially from those of NF-M and NF-L, and that the interaction of NF-H with NFs may be more dynamic than is generally recognized, especially during brain development and within specific compartments of mature neurons.