We investigated the postnatal development of the thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH)-containing raphe system in the brainstem of neonatal rats. Postnatal changes in TRH expression in nucleus (n.) raphe obscurus (ROb) and n. raphe pallidus (RPa) were evaluated by in situ hybridization using an 35S-labeled oligonucleotide probe complementary to TRH precursor mRNA. TRH mRNA expression was low at birth [postnatal day 0 (P0)], but was clearly evident by P7 and increased from that time to reach sustained high levels from P14 to P28. Consistent with this postnatal increase in TRH expression, we found increases in the density of TRH-immunoreactive (IR) fibers, which are derived from ROb and RPa, in the hypoglossal nucleus (nXII). TRH-IR fibers in nXII were very sparse at P0, but increased markedly over the first 2 postnatal weeks. The change in TRH innervation of nXII was closely matched by concomitant increases in 3H-methyl-TRH binding in nXII; specific TRH binding increased from very low levels at birth to high levels of P14. Finally, we recorded intracellularly the electrophysiological responses to TRH of hypoglossal motoneurons (HMs; n = 42) of neonatal rats (P0- P21) in a brainstem slice preparation. The response of neonatal HMs to TRH, in contrast to adult HMs, was highly variable. In some neonatal HMs, even at P0, TRH caused a depolarization with a decrease in input conductance (GN) that was characteristic of the response of all adult HMs. However, in other neonatal HMs, TRH was either without effect or caused a slight depolarization with no apparent change in GN, responses that were unlike those of adult HMs. A response was considered typical (i.e., “adult-like”) if GN decreased to < 85% of control. The percentage of cells responding in a typical manner increased progressively from 25% at P0-P2 to 100% after P11. In addition, we found that the density of TRH-sensitive current (normalized to cell capacitance) increased with postnatal age in HMs that responded in a typical manner, suggesting that expression of the TRH-sensitive conductance is also developmentally regulated. Together, these data indicate that the TRH raphe neuronal system of the rat brainstem is not fully mature at the time of birth but develops over the first few postnatal weeks. This was true of levels of TRH mRNA in caudal raphe nuclei, density of TRH-IR fibers and 3H-methyl-TRH binding in nXII, and also the manner and magnitude of electrophysiological responses of HMs to exogenously applied TRH.