During the postnatal development of cat visual cortex and corpus callosum the molecular composition of tau proteins varied with age. In both structures, they changed between postnatal days 19 and 39 from a set of two juvenile forms to a set of at least two adult variants with higher molecular weights. During the first postnatal week, tau proteins were detectable with TAU-1 antibody in axons of corpus callosum and visual cortex, and in some perikarya and dendrites in the visual cortex. At later ages, tau proteins were located exclusively within axons in all cortical layers and in the corpus callosum. Dephosphorylation of postnatal day 11 cortical tissue by alkaline phosphatase strongly increased tau protein immunoreactivity on Western blots and in numerous perikarya and dendrites in all cortical layers, in sections, suggesting that some tau forms had been unmasked. During postnatal development the intensity of this phosphate-dependent somatodendritic staining decreased, but remained in a few neurons in cortical layers II and III. On blots, the immunoreactivity of adult tau to TAU-1 was only marginally increased by dephosphorylation. Other tau antibodies (TAU-2, B19 and BR133) recognized two juvenile and two adult cat tau proteins on blots, and localized tau in axons or perikarya and dendrites in tissue untreated with alkaline phosphatase. Tau proteins in mature tissue were soluble and not associated with detergent-resistant structures. Furthermore, dephosphorylation by alkaline phosphatase resulted in the appearance of more tau proteins in soluble fractions. Therefore tau proteins seem to alter their degree of phosphorylation during development. This could affect microtubule stability as well as influence axonal and dendritic differentiation.