Members of the laminin family influence mammalian cells in a variety of ways, mediating adhesion, proliferation, migration, and growth of neuronal processes. Specific laminin domains act through a number of cellular interaction sites to mediate these activities. In the developing olfactory system, axons grow from the olfactory epithelium to synaptic sites in the olfactory bulb a matrix rich in laminins and known mediators of laminin-axon interactions include integrins and a galectin-1/glycoconjugate adhesion system. Using biochemistry, immunocytochemistry, and in situ hybridization, we identified alpha 2, alpha 3, beta 1, beta 2 and gamma 1 laminin isoforms in the late embryonic and neonatal rat olfactory system. However, alpha 1-containing laminin could not be detected in association with olfactory neurons. Immunocytochemistry revealed that beta 2 laminin is preferentially expressed in the ventral and lateral nerve layer of the olfactory bulb and in the main olfactory axon tracks, but is undetectable in the accessory system during embryonic and early postnatal development. In contrast, beta 1 and gamma 1 laminins are evenly distributed throughout the olfactory bulb and in both the main and accessory olfactory axon tracks. The differential localization of laminin chains in vivo is likely to have functional significance for the development and maintenance of the olfactory system.