The cerebellar Purkinje cell-specific PCP-2 gene is transcriptionally activated by thyroid hormone during the 2nd and 3rd weeks of postnatal life in the rat. In contrast, thyroid hormone has no detectable effects on PCP-2 expression in three fetal rat. We now present data that suggest that the orphan nuclear receptor chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter-transcription factor (COUP-TF) represses triiodothyronine (T3)-dependent transcriptional activation of PCP-2 in the immature Purkinje cell. Gel shift assays show tat the PCP-2 A1TRE and adjoining sequences (-295/-199 region) bind to rat and mouse brain nucleoproteins in a developmentally regulated fashion and that one of these neuroproteins could be the orphan nucleoprotein COUP-TF. In support of this hypothesis, in vitro translated COUP-TF binds to the - 295/199 region and COUP-TF represses T3-dependent activation of the PCP-2 promoter in transient transfection analyses. Finally, immunohistochemical studies reveal that COUP-TF is specifically expressed in the immature fetal and early neonatal Purkinje cell and that this expression diminishes coincident with thyroid hormone induction of PCP-2 expression. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the presence or absence of inhibitory proteins bound to the thyroid hormone response element of T3-responsive genes governs the responsivity of these genes to thyroid hormone during brain development.