The gcm gene of Drosophila melanogaster encodes a transcription factor that is an important component in cell fate specification within the nervous system. In the absence of a functional gcm gene, progenitor cells differentiate into neurons, whereas when the gene is ectopically expressed the cells produce excess glial cells at the expense of neuronal differentiation. Recent searches of databases have uncovered high sequence similarity between the Drosophila gem gene and an anonymous human placental cDNA clone (Altschuller et al., 1996; this communication). Here we report the molecular organization of the murine Gcm1, its spatio-temporal pattern of expression in developing placenta, and its map position at E1-E3 on murine chromosome 9. The murine gene is composed of at least 6 exons. The promoter region contains an "initiation sequence" and is GC rich, characteristics of the promoters of several transcription factors. The mRNA has a modest 5'UTR (ca. 200 bases) but an extensive 3' UTR (ca. 2 kb). Northern blot and mRNA in situ hybridization studies showed that Gcm1 expression was readily detectable only in the placenta. It began at embryonic day 7.5 within trophoblast cells of the chorion and continued to about embryonic day 17.5 within a subset of labyrinthine trophoblast cells. Comparison with other transcription factors revealed that Gcm1 expression defines a unique subset of trophoblast cells.