Extracellular ATP mediates diverse biological effects by activating two families of receptors, the P2X and P2Y receptors. There is growing evidence to show that activation of G protein-coupled P2Y receptors can produce trophic effects in many cell types. Yet the expression and function of the P2Y receptors in development has rarely been studied and has never been investigated in mammalian development. This study used the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry to demonstrate the abundant and dynamic expression of P2Y receptors in rat development. These receptors were expressed in a wide range of embryonic structures, notably somites, skeletal muscle, the central and peripheral nervous system, the heart, lung, and liver. All the P2Y receptors studied were expressed as early as embryonic day 11, when most embryonic organs were far from being functional and still in the process of being formed. P2Y receptor proteins were strongly expressed in temporary, developmental structures that do not have a correlate in the adult animal, including the somites (P2Y1, P2Y2, and P2Y4) and the floor plate of the neural tube (P2Y1). P2Y receptors were also dynamically expressed, with receptor mRNA and protein being both up- and down-regulated at different developmental stages. The down-regulation of the P2Y1, 2, and 4 receptor proteins in skeletal muscle and heart, and the disappearance of the P2Y4 receptor from the brainstem and ventral white matter of the spinal cord postnatally, demonstrated that many P2Y receptors were likely to be involved in functions specific to embryonic life. Thus, these findings strongly suggest that P2Y receptors play an important role in the development of many tissues, and pioneer further studies into the role of purinergic signalling in development. Developmental Dynamics 228:254–266, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.