The role of thyroid hormone (TH) in the expression of neurofilament (NF) genes during the first 3-4 postnatal weeks of rat brain development has been examined. I.p. administration of TH to 2-day-old hypothyroid rats resulted in a 2-fold increase in cerebral NF-M and NF-L mRNAs, while administration to 15-day-old hypothyroid rats led to a 1.5- to 3-fold increase in NF-H mRNA within 2-4 h of hormone injection. Comparison of the level of these mRNAs in cerebra from 5, 10, 15 and 20-day-old normal and hypothyroid rats by Northern blot analysis revealed that hypothyroidism declined the expression of all three mRNAs by 50-70% at all ages examined. Western blot analysis of total protein and cytoskeletal proteins isolated from cerebras of 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25-day-old normal and hypothyroid rats demonstrated an even greater reduction (60-90%) in the expression of NF proteins in the hypothyroid cerebra during the period examined. The overall results show that TH plays an important role in regulating the expression of all three NF genes during rat brain development.