Radioimmunoassay and microdissection procedures were used to study the perinatal development of the endorphin- and enkephalin-containing systems in the rat brain. In contrast to values reported on adult rat, endorphin levels are much higher than enkephalin levels on embryonic day 16. The highest endorphin values are found in the diencephalon, midline telencephalon and medulla-midbrain regions. Perinatally, enkephalin content increases at a faster rate than endorphin in all brain regions, producing a marked drop of the endorphin/enkephalin ratios. Between postnatal days 6 and 25, both endorphin and enkephalin levels increase, approaching their adult distribution pattern. No correlation was found between regional distributions or rates of increase of endorphin and enkephalin in any of these developmental stages, suggesting that the two peptide systems develop independently from each other.