The recent characterization of multiple fibrillin genes raises the question of whether each of the fibrillin proteins is a component of elastic fiber microfibrils and whether their expression during development of elastic tissues is consistent with a function associated with elastogenesis. To address these possibilities, the expression of fibrillin-1 and fibrillin-2 was compared with expression of MAGP and tropoelastin in two elastogenic tissues that undergo different developmental programs. For both fibrillins, the greatest increase in expression occurred during the last half of fetal development when elastin production is highest. In fetal bovine nuchal ligament, mRNA levels for fibrillin-1 and fibrillin-2 increased approximately threefold during this period, whereas tropoelastin increased 20-fold. Although the relative increase in expression of both fibrillins was equivalent, the basal level of fibrillin-1 expression was greater than fibrillin-2. In developing bovine aorta, fibrillin mRNA levels again paralleled tropoelastin expression although, compared to ligament, elastin synthesis began at an earlier fetal age in this tissue. Furthermore, the relative increase in aortic fibrillin-2 expression was greater than that for fibrillin-1 and the ratio of fibrillin-2 to fibrillin-1 was higher than in the ligament. In contrast to the fibrillins, MAGP expression in nuchal ligament and aorta remained at a constant high level throughout the fetal period. Indirect immunofluorescent staining and immunoelectron microscopy localized both fibrillins as well as MAGP to elastic fiber microfibrils in these developing tissues. The coordinate upregulation of fibrillin-1 and fibrillin-2 expression with the onset of tropoelastin production is consistent with a role in elastic fiber assembly. Our findings also suggest temporal and tissue-specific regulation for the fibrillins during development.