The NR3B NMDA receptor subunit is selective to somatic motoneurons in the adult nervous system. Here we report its developmental expression in the mouse brain and spinal cord by in situ hybridization. NR3B mRNA was detected in few neural regions during embryonic and neonatal periods. It first appeared in motoneurons at postnatal day (P)10−P14, and attained the maximal level at P21 and adult stage. This developmental profile was reciprocal with that of NR2 subunits, of which NR2A mRNA was most predominant in embryonic and neonatal motoneurons and downregulated by P14. Interestingly, mRNA of the NR1 subunit, which is required for functional NMDA receptors, displayed a ‘V’-shaped change, decreasing with the early postnatal decline of NR2 mRNAs and increasing with the subsequent appearance of NR3B mRNA. Therefore, the major regulatory subunit of NMDA receptors is likely to switch from NR2 to NR3B in somatic motoneurons during the early postnatal period.