An inhibitory neurotransmitter in mature brain, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) also appears to be excitatory early in development. The mechanisms underlying this shift are not well understood. In vitro studies have suggested that Na-K-Cl cotransport may have a role in modulating immature neuronal and oligodendrocyte responses to the neurotransmitter GABA. An in vivo developmental study would test this view. Therefore, we examined the expression of the BSC2 isoform of the Na-K-2Cl cotransporter in the postnatal developing rat brain. A comparison of sections from developing rat brains by in situ hybridization revealed a well-delineated temporal and spatial pattern of first increasing and then diminishing cotransporter expression. Na-K-2Cl mRNA expression in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus was highest in the first week of postnatal life and then diminished from postnatal day (PND) 14 to adult. Cotransporter signal in white-matter tracts of the cerebrum, cerebellum, peaked at PND 14. Expression was detected in cerebellar progenitor cells of the external granular layer, in internal granular layer cells at least as early as PND 7, and in Purkinje cells beginning at PND 14. Double-labeling immunofluorescence of brain sections with anti-BSC2 antibody and cell type-specific antibodies confirmed expression of the cotransporter gene product in neurons and oligodendrocytes in the white matter in a pattern similar to that determined by in situ hybridization. The temporal pattern of expression of the Na-K-2Cl cotransporter in the postnatal rat brain supports the hypothesis that the cotransporter is the mechanism of intracellular Cl- accumulation in immature neurons and oligodendrocytes.