The expression of major sarcoplasmic reticulum proteins during cardiac and fast-twitch skeletal muscle development was examined using gene-specific probes. Through the use of S1 nuclease mapping, Northern blot, and RNA slot-blot analysis, sarcoplasmic reticulum proteins were shown to exhibit both narrow tissue specificity and plasticity in their expression during muscle development. In fast-twitch skeletal muscle, the cardiac/slow-twitch isoforms of Ca(2+)-ATPase and calsequestrin were detected at high levels in fetal stages but were gradually replaced by fast-twitch isoforms in adult muscle. In contrast, cardiac muscle expressed exclusively cardiac/slow-twitch isoforms of Ca(2+)-ATPase and calsequestrin at all stages. Both fast-twitch and slow-twitch skeletal muscle expressed the same skeletal muscle ryanodine receptor isoform, whereas cardiac muscle expressed a cardiac isoform. Phospholamban expression was restricted to cardiac and slow-twitch skeletal muscle and did not appear in developing fast-twitch skeletal muscle. During in vitro myogenesis of C2C12 cells, the mRNA transcripts encoding sarcoplasmic reticulum proteins were found to be coordinately induced in synchrony with that of contractile protein mRNA. The myogenic factor "myogenin" induced sarcoplasmic reticulum gene transcripts along with contractile protein mRNAs in nonmyogenic cells. These data suggest that the induction of both sarcoplasmic reticulum and contractile protein gene families is under the control of a common myogenic differentiation program.