Basonuclin is a zinc finger protein with highly restricted tissue distribution. It has been found in abundance only in keratinocytes of stratified epithelia and the germ cells of the testis and ovary. We studied the expression pattern of basonuclin in relation to cellular proliferation and differentiation in murine corneal and lens epithelia, two self-renewing tissues in the eye which contain cells that proliferate throughout life. Mouse corneal and lens epithelial cells at various stages of development were labeled with BrdU for 90 min to detect cells in S phase and to establish proliferative rates. Whole eyes of mouse or rat were processed for frozen sections and cellular basonuclin was detected by either a rabbit antimouse- or a rabbit anti-human-basonuclin antibody. Basonuclin was expressed in virtually all cells in the basal layer of corneal epithelium and in the pre-equatorial lens epithelium, the respective proliferative compartments of adult corneal and lens epithelia. Basonuclin expression in corneal epithelium began at post-natal life day 4, first in a few cells and then spread to virtually all basal cells at day 20. Basonuclin was consistently absent in limbal epithelium. Lens basonuclin, which was detected earlier than that of the cornea, was confined to the pre-equatorial epithelium and was absent in equatorial cells that expressed p57KIP2, an early differentiation marker for these cells. An important distinction between corneal and lens basonuclin is that the former is predominantly nuclear whereas the latter cytoplasmic.