Agrin is a protein implicated in the formation and maintenance of the neuromuscular junction. In addition to motor neurons, agrin mRNA has been detected in the brains of embryonic rat and chick and adult marine ray, suggesting that this molecule may also be involved in the formation of synapses between neurons. As a step toward understanding agrin's role in the CNS, we utilized Northern blot and in situ hybridization techniques to analyze the regional distribution and cellular localization of agrin mRNA in the spinal cord and brain of adult rats. The results of these studies indicate that the agrin mRNA is expressed predominantly by neurons broadly distributed throughout the adult CNS. Moreover, expression of agrin mRNA is not restricted to cholinergic structures or regions of the brain receiving cholinergic input. Recently, RNA isolated from rat embryonic spinal cord was shown to contain four alternatively spliced agrin mRNAs, referred to as agrin0, agrin8, agrin11, and agrin19, each of which encodes agrin proteins that are active in acetylcholine receptor aggregating assays (Ferns et al., 1992). Using the polymerase chain reaction we demonstrate that all four of these agrin transcripts are expressed within the adult CNS. Agrin0, agrin8, and agrin19 were present in all regions analyzed. In contrast, agrin11 was detected only in forebrain. Results of these studies indicate that both the level of expression and pattern of alternative splicing of agrin mRNA are differentially regulated in the brain. The broad and predominantly neuronal distribution of agrin mRNA in the adult brain suggests that, in addition to its role at the neuromuscular junction, agrin may play a role in formation and maintenance of synapses between neurons in the CNS.