The transverse (T) tubules of skeletal muscle are membrane tubules that are continuous with the plasma membrane and penetrate the mature muscle fiber radially to carry surface membrane depolarization to the sites of excitation-contraction coupling. We have studied the development of the T-tubule system in cultured amphibian and mammalian muscle cells using a fluorescent lipid probe and antibodies against T-tubules and plasma membranes. Both the lipid probe and the T-tubule antibody recognized an extensive tubular membrane system which subsequently differentiated into the T-system. At all developmental stages, the molecular composition of the T-system was distinct from that of the plasma membrane, suggesting that during myogenesis T-tubules and the plasma membrane form independently from each other and that exchange of membrane proteins between the two continuous compartments is restricted. In rat muscle cultures, T-tubule-specific antigens were first expressed in terminally differentiated myoblasts. Prior to myoblast fusion the antigens appeared as punctate label throughout the cytoplasm. Shortly after fusion the T-tubule-specific antibody labeled a tubular membrane system that extended from the perinuclear region and penetrated most parts of the cells. In contrast, the lipid probe, which labels the T-tubules by virtue of their direct continuity with the plasma membrane, only labeled short tubules extending from the plasma membrane into the periphery of the myotubes at the early stage in development. Thus, the assembly of the T-tubules appears to begin before their connections with the plasma membrane are established.