beta-Tubulin is encoded in vertebrate genomes by a family of six to seven functional genes that produce six different polypeptide isotypes. We now document that although rat PC-12 cells express five of these isotypes, only two (classes II and III) accumulate significantly as a consequence of nerve growth factor-stimulated neurite outgrowth. In contrast to previous efforts that have failed to detect in vivo distinctions among different beta-tubulin isotypes, we demonstrate using immunoblotting with isotype-specific antibodies that three beta-tubulin polypeptides (classes I, II, and IV) are used preferentially for assembly of neurite microtubules (with approximately 70% of types I and II assembled but only approximately 50% of type III in polymer). Immunofluorescence localization shows that an additional isotype (V) is partially excluded from neurites. Distinctions in in vivo localization of the neuron-specific, class III isotype have also been directly observed using immunofluorescence and immunogold electron microscopy. The sum of these efforts documents that some in vivo functional differences between tubulin isotypes do exist.