The expression of mRNA encoding plasma membrane calcium ATPase (PMCA) subunit isoforms (1-4) and splice variants was examined in the adult and developing rat cochlea by PCR and in situ hybridization. High levels of PMCA mRNA expression were observed in the neurons of the spiral ganglion, and in hair cells. Spiral ganglion neurons expressed PMCA 1-3 beginning in embryonic development, reaching high levels shortly after birth, and continuing into adulthood. Inner hair cells expressed PMCA 1 at moderate levels from birth to the time of onset of cochlear function on postnatal day 12, and strongly from then until adulthood. Outer hair cells expressed PMCA 2 at high levels from shortly after birth through adulthood. The data suggest that the calcium clearance requirements of inner and outer hair cells are distinct. PMCA 2 is the isoform with the highest affinity for calmodulin, and has also been associated with high levels of inositol triphosphate. Its presence in outer hair cells suggests that regulation of the enzyme by calmodulin may be particularly important for this hair cell type. It further suggests that inositol phosphate may play a unique role in the outer hair cell.