We previously reported that the cytoskeleton of rat astrocytes in primary culture contains vimentin, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), and actin. These proteins were found in a fraction insoluble in Triton X-100 and thought to be assembled in filamentous structures. We now used primary astrocyte cultures to study the kinetics of synthesis and turnover of these cytoskeletal proteins. The intermediate filament proteins were among the most actively synthesized by astrocytes. High levels of synthesis were detectable by the third day of culture in the early log phase of growth, and the pattern of labeling at day 3 was similar to that at 14 days when the cultures had reached confluency. In short-term incorporation experiments vimentin, GFAP, and actin in the Triton-insoluble fraction were labeled within 5 min after exposure of the cultures to radioactive leucine. We did not detect any saturation of labeling for up to 6 h of incubation. The turnover of filament proteins studied by following the decay of radioactivity from prelabeled vimentin, GFAP, and cytoskeletal actin displayed biphasic decay kinetics for all three proteins. In the initial phase a fast-decaying pool with a half-life of 12-18 h contributed about 40% of the total activity in each protein. A major portion, about 60%, of each protein, however, decayed much more slowly, exhibiting a half-life of about 8 days.