The molecular core of the vertebrate circadian clock is a set of clock genes, whose products interact to control circadian changes in physiology. These clock genes are expressed in all tissues known to possess an endogenous self-sustaining clock, and many are also found in peripheral tissues. In the present study, the expression patterns of two clock genes, cBmal1 and cMOP4, were examined in the chicken, a useful model for analysis of the avian circadian system. In two tissues which contain endogenous clocks--the pineal gland and retina--circadian fluctuations of both cBmal1 and cMOP4 mRNAs were observed to be synchronous; highest levels occurred at Zeitgeber time 12. Expression of these genes is also rhythmic in several peripheral tissues; however, the phases of these rhythms differ from those in the pineal gland and retina: in the liver the peaks of cMOP4 and cBmal1 mRNAs are delayed 4-8 h and in the heart they are advanced by 4 h, relative to those in the pineal gland and retina. These results provide the first temporal characterization of cBmal1 and cMOP4 mRNAs in avian tissues: their presence in avian peripheral tissues indicates they may influence temporal features of daily rhythms in biochemical, physiological, and behavioral functions at these sites.