On the assumption that Rad51 protein plays a role in early meiotic chromosomal events, we examine the location and time of appearance of immuno-reactive Rad51 protein in meiotic prophase chromosomes. The Rad51 foci in mouse spermatocytes appear after the emergence of, and attached to, short chromosomal core segments that we visualize with Cor1-specific antibody. These foci increase in number to about 250 per nucleus at the time when core formation is extensive. The numbers are higher in mouse oocytes and lower in rat spermatocytes, possibly correlating with recombination rates in those cases. In the male mouse, foci decrease in number to approximately 100 while chromosome synapsis is in progress. When synapsis is completed, the numbers of autosomal foci decline to near 0 while the X chromosome retains about 15 foci throughout this time. This stage coincides with the appearance of testis-specific histone H1t at mid- to late pachytene. Electron microscopy reveals that at first Rad51 immunogold-labeled 100 nm nodules are associated with single cores, and that they come to lie between the chromosome cores during synapsis. It appears that these nodules may be the homologs of the Rad51-positive early nodules that are well documented in plants. The reciprocal recombination-correlated late nodules appear after the Rad51 foci are no longer detectable. The absence of Rad51 foci in the chromatin loops suggests that in wild-type mice Rad51/DNA filaments are restricted to DNA at the cores/synaptonemal complexes. The expected association of Rad51 protein with Rad52 could not be verified immunocytologically.