The expression of the neural cell adhesion molecule L1 was analyzed in several non-neural tissues of the mouse using immunohistochemical and immunochemical techniques. In the adult mouse, L1 immunoreactivity was detectable in the basal and intermediate layers of epidermal and lingual epithelia, in the outer sheath of hair roots and in the single-layered endodermal epithelia of lung, small intestine, and colon. Epithelia of salivary glands also showed L1 immunoreactivity, while endothelial cells of blood vessels did not express detectable levels of L1. The epithelia of the kidney showed expression only in the collecting tubule system. In single-layered kidney epithelia and stratified epithelia, L1 expression was confined to lateral cell contacts and basal infoldings of the epithelial cells but was absent from apical and basal cell surface membranes. Also, in cultured keratinocytes L1 was confined to cell-cell contacts. During development of the epidermis, L1 immunoreactivity was first detectable at the onset of keratinization around embryonic day 16. At this age LI was detectable in the kidney on branching tubules of the ureter. Western blot analysis showed that L1 immunoreactivity in epidermis and kidney appeared as two bands of 190-210 and 210-230 kDa. Northern blot analysis of mRNA from the L1-immunopositive HEL-30 keratinocyte cell line revealed a single band with the expected size of 6 kb. The presence of L1 in epithelia indicates that this molecule may be involved in interactions between epithelial cells and thereby may affect differentiation and maintenance of epithelial tissues.