cDNA clones corresponding to rat ceruloplasmin were isolated from newborn rat lung and liver cDNA libraries and the nucleotide sequence was obtained. The derived amino acid sequence of rat ceruloplasmin is 93% homologous to the corresponding human sequence and contains a 19-amino acid leader peptide plus 1040 amino acids of mature protein. Southern blot analysis indicates that the ceruloplasmin gene exists as a single copy in the rat haploid genome. Using these cDNA clones in RNA blot analysis, a single 3.7-kilobase ceruloplasmin-specific transcript is detected in fetal rat liver and lung by day 15 of gestation. During fetal development the abundance of this transcript increases selectively in these two tissues and at birth is 60% of that found in the adult liver. Postnatally the temporal pattern of ceruloplasmin gene expression in lung and liver differs. Within the first 3 weeks postpartum ceruloplasmin mRNA content decreases in lung to undetectable levels, while that in the liver reaches adult levels. Primer extension reveals a single identical start site of ceruloplasmin gene transcription in lung and liver and biosynthetic studies indicate that each tissue synthesizes a ceruloplasmin protein which is qualitatively similar to that synthesized by adult liver. Ceruloplasmin mRNA is also detected in human fetal lung explant and a human lung adenocarcinoma cell line suggesting that a similar pattern of expression occurs in the developing human lung. These data indicate that lung is the predominant extrahepatic site of ceruloplasmin gene expression during fetal development and suggest that this protein may play a previously unappreciated role in lung development or pulmonary antioxidant defense.