We analyzed by in situ hybridization the spatiotemporal expression of dm-20, myelin basic protein (MBP) and 2'-3' cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase (CNP) during embryonic and postnatal development of the normal mouse and two plp/dm-20 mutants: the jimpy mouse and a transgenic mouse overexpressing the plp gene. In the central nervous system (CNS) of the normal mouse, dm-20 mRNA was detected at embryonic day (E)9.5 in the laterobasal plate of the diencephalon. The pattern of expression of CNP transcript was superimposable on that of dm-20, but appeared slightly later, at E12.5. MBP mRNA was detected even later (E14.5), and, in addition, only in the caudal (rhombencephalon and spinal cord) territories of expression of dm-20 and CNP. These observations support our previous proposals: (1) dm-20-expressing cells in the germinative neuroepithelium are precursors of oligodendrocytes, and (2) oligodendrocytes emerge from distinct pools of precursors along the neural tube (Timsit et al., 1995). In the jimpy mutant, despite the mutation in the plp gene, cells of the oligodendrocyte lineage developed normally. It is only at the time of myelin deposition that oligodendrocytes die. During embryonic development of the transgenic mutant overexpressing plp, there were no alterations in the spatiotemporal pattern or the level of expression of dm-20 in the CNS, in contrast to the higher levels of dm-20 observed in the peripheral nervous system (PNS).