Complementary DNA clones were isolated that represent the 5' terminal 2.5 kilobases of the murine Duchenne muscular dystrophy (Dmd) messenger RNA (mRNA). Mouse Dmd mRNA was detectable in skeletal and cardiac muscle and at a level approximately 90 percent lower in brain. Dmd mRNA is also present, but at much lower than normal levels, in both the muscle and brain of three different strains of dystrophic mdx mice. The identification of Dmd mRNA in brain raises the possibility of a relation between human Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) gene expression and the mental retardation found in some DMD males. These results also provide evidence that the mdx mutations are allelic variants of mouse Dmd gene mutations.