We have previously isolated a cDNA clone for a gene whose expression is reduced by retinoic acid (RA) treatment of F9 embryonal carcinoma cells. The nucleotide sequence indicated that this gene, Rex-1, encodes a zinc-finger protein and thus may be a transcriptional regulator. The Rex-1 message level is high in two lines of embryonic stem cells (CCE and D3) and is reduced when D3 cells are induced to differentiate using four different growth conditions. As expected for a stem-cell-specific message, Rex-1 mRNA is present in the inner cell mass (ICM) of the day 4.5 mouse blastocyst. It is also present in the polar trophoblast of the blastocyst. One and two days later, Rex-1 message is found in the ectoplacental cone and extraembryonic ectoderm of the egg cylinder (trophoblast-derived tissues), but its abundance is much reduced in the embryonic ectoderm which is directly descended from the ICM. Rex-1 is expressed in the day 18 placenta (murine gestation is 18 days), a tissue which is largely derived from trophoblast. The only tested adult tissue that contains detectable amounts of Rex-1 mRNA is the testis. In situ hybridization and northern analyses of RNA from germ-cell-deficient mouse testis and stage-specific germ cell preparations suggest that Rex-1 expression is limited to spermatocytes (germ cells undergoing meiosis). These results suggest that Rex-1 is involved in trophoblast development and spermatogenesis, and is a useful marker for studies of early cell fate determination in the ICM.