Previous studies have established that most of the mRNAs that neurons express are localized in the cell body and very proximal dendrites, whereas a small subset of mRNAs is present at relatively high levels in dendrites. It is not clear, however, whether particular mRNAs have the same subcellular distribution in different types of neurons or whether different types of neurons sort mRNAs in different ways. The present study was undertaken to address these questions. Nonisotopic in situ hybridization techniques were used to define the subcellular localization of representative mRNAs including beta-tubulin, low-molecular-weight neurofilament protein (NF-68), high-molecular-weight microtubule-associated protein (MAP2), growth-associated protein 43 (F1/GAP43), the alpha subunit of calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (alpha CaMII kinase), and poly (A+) mRNA. The mRNAs for beta-tubulin, neurofilament 68, and F1/GAP43 were restricted to the region of the cell body and very proximal dendrites in most neurons. In some neuron types, however, labeling for NF-68 extended for considerable distances into dendrites. In some neurons that express MAP2, the mRNA was present at the highest levels in the proximal third to half of the dendritic arbor, whereas in other neurons the highest levels of labeling were in the cell body. In most neurons that express alpha CaMII kinase, the highest levels of the mRNA were in the cell body, but labeling was also present throughout dendrites. However, in a few types of neurons, alpha CaMII kinase mRNA was largely restricted to the cell body. The fact that there are no general rules for mRNA localization that apply to all neuron types implies the existence of neuron type-specific mechanisms that regulate mRNA distribution.