alpha-Internexin is a 66 kDa protein that copurifies with intermediate filaments (IF) from rat spinal cord and optic nerve. This protein is axonally transported in rat optic nerve along with the neurofilament triplet proteins in slow component a. Polymerization in vitro and distribution in vivo confirm that alpha-internexin is a neuronal IF. We raised 2 highly specific monoclonal antibodies to alpha-internexin which were applied to frozen rat brain sections and Western blots of cytoskeletal extracts. These results indicate that alpha-internexin is primarily an axonal protein found in most, if not all, neurons of the CNS. Immunoreactive proteins of similar molecular weight were found in cytoskeletal extracts of CNS tissue from several additional species, including mouse and cow. While the distribution of alpha-internexin as given by immunocytochemical methods is similar to that of low molecular weight neurofilament protein (NF-L) in the adult, its distribution in the embryo is far more extensive. At embryonic day 16, when the expression of NF-L is still limited to a relatively small number of cells and levels of expression are low, alpha-internexin is already found at much higher levels and in cells not yet expressing NF-L in detectable quantities. Similar results are found at embryonic day 12. These data suggest that neuronal IF in the developing nervous system contain a higher proportion of alpha-internexin than their adult counterparts, and that expression of alpha-internexin precedes that of NF-L in many or most neurons of the developing brain.