Creatine kinase (CK) plays an important role in buffering ATP and ADP levels in tissues which have intermittently high and fluctuating energy demands, such as skeletal muscle. This buffering function has a spatial, as well as a temporal aspect, which is dependent on the localization of different enzyme isoforms within the cell. We show here, by in situ hybridization, that the mRNAs for the cytoplasmic isoforms of CK are differentially localized in a mouse myoblast cell line (C2C12). The mRNA for the M form is localized at the cell periphery, while that for the B form is localized in the perinuclear region. Deletion of segments of the 3' untranslated regions of these mRNAs or swapping of these segments between the mRNAs for the two isoforms demonstrated that localization signals lie within these regions. Localization appears to be tissue-specific, since both the M and B mRNAs were distributed uniformly over the cytoplasm in a non-muscle cell line. These results, in conjunction with other studies which have shown that mRNA localization can lead to co-localization of the encoded protein, suggest that the localization of the mRNAs for the cytoplasmic isoforms of CK may be involved in the localization of the enzymes themselves.