Ubiquitin-immunoreactive neuronal inclusions composed of TAR DNA binding protein of 43 kDa (TDP-43) are a major pathological feature of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD-TDP). In vivo studies with TDP-43 knockout mice have suggested that TDP-43 plays a critical, although undefined role in development. In the current report, we generated transgenic mice that conditionally express wild-type human TDP-43 (hTDP-43) in the fore-brain and established a paradigm to examine the sensitivity of neurons to TDP-43 overexpression at different developmental stages. Continuous TDP-43 expression during early neuronal development produced a complex phenotype, including aggregation of phospho-TDP-43, increased ubiquitin immunoreactivity, mitochondrial abnormalities, neurodegeneration and early lethality. In contrast, later induction of hTDP-43 in the forebrain of weaned mice prevented early death and mitochondrial abnormalities while yielding salient features of FTLD-TDP, including progressive neurodegeneration and ubiquitinated, phospho-TDP-43 neuronal cytoplasmic inclusions. These results suggest that neurons in the developing forebrain are extremely sensitive to TDP-43 overexpression and that timing of TDP-43 over-expression in transgenic mice must be considered when distinguishing normal roles of TDP-43, particularly as they relate to development, from its pathogenic role in FTLD-TDP and other TDP-43 proteinopathies. Finally, our adult induction of hTDP-43 strategy provides a mouse model that develops critical pathological features that are directly relevant for human TDP-43 proteinopathies. © The Author(s) 2012.