We report the isolation, by RT-PCR, of partial cDNAs encoding the rat peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) isoforms PPAR alpha, PPAR beta, and PPAR gamma and the rat retinoid X receptor (RXR) isoforms RXR alpha, RXR beta, and RXR gamma. These cDNAs were used to generate antisense RNA probes to permit analysis, by the highly sensitive and discriminatory RNase protection assay, of the corresponding mRNAs in rat brain regions during development. PPAR alpha, PPAR beta, RXR alpha, and RXR beta mRNAs are ubiquitously present in different brain regions during development, PPAR gamma mRNA is essentially undetectable, and RXR gamma mRNA is principally localised to cortex. We demonstrate, for the first time, the presence of PPAR and RXR mRNAs in primary cultures of neonatal meningeal fibroblasts, cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs), and cortical and cerebellar astrocytes and in primary cultures of adult cortical astrocytes. PPAR alpha, PPAR beta, RXR alpha, and RXR beta mRNAs are present in all cell types, albeit that PPAR alpha and RXR alpha mRNAs are at levels near the limit of detection in CGNs. PPAR gamma mRNA is expressed at low levels in most cell types but is present at levels similar to those of PPAR alpha mRNA in adult astrocytes. RXR gamma mRNA is present either at low levels, or below the level of detection of the assay, for all cell types studied.