The release of GnRH peptide from neuroterminals in the median eminence increases during postnatal development. We were interested in determining the biosynthetic component contributing to the regulation of GnRH decapeptide levels, and ascertaining the molecular mechanism for these changes. Male and female C57bl/6 mice, from embryonic day (E)16 through postnatal day (P)60, were killed, and the preoptic area-anterior hypothalamus was dissected out. Cytoplasmic and nuclear RNA were extracted separately. Levels of GnRH messenger RNA (mRNA) and primary transcript were quantitated in individual preoptic area-anterior hypothalamus cytoplasmic and nuclear fractions, respectively, by ribonuclease protection assays. Serum LH levels were assayed by RIA. GnRH mRNA levels in the cytoplasm increased gradually and significantly during postnatal development in both males and females, reaching a peak at P55 in females and P40 in males. GnRH primary transcript levels in the nucleus, an index of GnRH gene transcription, changed in a completely different manner developmentally, and they differed between male and female mice. GnRH primary transcript levels in males were quite low until P5, when they underwent an increase of approximately 4-fold, between P5 and P7. They continued to increase through P15, at which time they reached adult levels. In females, GnRH primary transcript levels were high at E16, decreased to a nadir at P5, and then underwent an increase of approximately 5-fold to P7, which were comparable with adult levels. The large and sexually dimorphic changes in GnRH primary transcript between E16 and P7, in the absence of similar changes in GnRH mRNA, suggest that differential mechanisms, such as gene transcription and mRNA stability, play a role in determining levels of GnRH mRNA at different stages of development.