It has been reported previously that keratin 8 (K8)-deficient mice of one strain die from a liver defect at around E12.5, while those of another strain suffer from colorectal hyperplasia. These findings have generated considerable confusion about the function of K8, K18 and K19 that are co-expressed in the mouse blastocyst and internal epithelia. To resolve this issue, we produced mice doubly deficient for K18 and K19 leading to complete loss of keratin filaments in early mouse development. These embryos died at around day E9.5 with 100% penetrance. The absence of keratins caused cytolysis restricted to trophoblast giant cells, followed by haematomas in the trophoblast layer. Up to that stage, embryonic development proceeded unaffected in the absence of keratin filaments. K18/19-deficient mouse embryos die earlier than any other intermediate filament knockouts reported so far, suggesting that keratins, in analogy to their well established role in epidermis, are essential for the integrity of a specialized embryonic epithelium. Our data also offer a rationale to explore the involvement of keratin mutations in early abortions during human pregnancies.