GAP-43 is one of a small subset of cellular proteins selectively transported by a neuron to its terminals. Its enrichment in growth cones and its increased levels in developing or regenerating neurons suggest that it has an important role in neurite growth. A complementary DNA (cDNA) that encodes rat GAP-43 has been isolated to study its structural characteristics and regulation. The predicted molecular size is 24 kilodaltons, although its migration in SDS-polyacrylamide gels is anomalously retarded. Expression of GAP-43 is limited to the nervous system, where its levels are highest during periods of neurite outgrowth. Nerve growth factor or adenosine 3',5'-monophosphate induction of neurites from PC12 cells is accompanied by increased GAP-43 expression. GAP-43 RNA is easily detectable, although at diminished levels, in the adult rat nervous system. This regulation of GAP-43 is concordant with a role in growth-related processes of the neuron, processes that may continue in the mature animal.