The neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2) gene product, merlin, encodes a 595 amino acid protein with sequence similarity to a family of proteins linking cell membrane proteins to the cytoskeleton. Two isoforms of merlin have been described which differ by the presence (type 2 merlin) or absence (type 1 merlin) of exon 16 sequences inserted into the extreme carboxyl terminus of the protein. To determine the role of this important negative growth regulator during normal embryonic development, the expression of these two merlin isoforms was examined at representative stages of rat embryogenesis and in adult tissues. Partial sequence analysis of the rat merlin gene demonstrated striking amino acid identity to the published mouse and human merlin gene sequences. In situ hybridization and RT-PCR analyses demonstrated that rat merlin is widely expressed during embryogenesis and early postnatal life in most tissues but becomes restricted to the brainstem, cerebellum, dorsal root ganglia, spinal cord, adrenal gland and testis in adult animals. The elucidation of the pattern of merlin gene expression in adult and embryonic tissues provides the foundations for future studies aimed at determining the function(s) of this protein during cell differentiation and embryonic development. / 1995 Oxford University Press.