The expression of growth-associated protein GAP-43 mRNA in spinal cord and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons has been studied using an enzyme linked in situ hybridization technique in neonatal and adult rats. High levels of GAP-43 mRNA are present at birth in the majority of spinal cord neurons and in all dorsal root ganglion cells. This persists until postnatal day 7 and then declines progressively to near adult levels (with low levels of mRNA in spinal cord motor neurons and 2000–3000 DRG cells expressing high levels) at postnatal day 21. A re-expression of GAP-43 mRNA in adult rats is apparent, both in sciatic motor neurons and the majority of L4 and L5 dorsal root ganglion cells, 1 day after sciatic nerve section. High levels of the GAP-43 mRNA in the axotomized spinal motor neurons persist for at least 2 weeks but decline 5 weeks after sciatic nerve section, with the mRNA virtually undetectable after 10 weeks. The initial changes after sciatic nerve crush are similar, but by 5 weeks GAP-43 mRNA in the sciatic motor neurons has declined to control levels. In DRG cells, after both sciatic nerve section or crush, GAP-43 mRNA re-expression persists much longer than in motor neurons. There was no re-expression of GAP-43 mRNA in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord after peripheral nerve lesions. Our study demonstrates a similar developmental regulation in spinal cord and DRG neurons of GAP-43 mRNA. We show moreover that failure of re-innervation does not result in a maintenance of GAP-43 mRNA in axotomized motor neurons.