We describe here the distribution of cellular retinoic acid-binding protein I (CRABP I) in the head of the early mouse embryo from day 8 to day 13 of gestation, using both in situ hybridisation to localise mRNA and immunocytochemistry to localise protein. The distribution of mRNA and protein was found to be identical. CRABP I first appeared in part of the presumptive hindbrain of the presomite embryo and then became localised to rhombomeres 2, 4, 5 and 6. The only other area of expression in the cephalic neuroepithelium was in a part of the midbrain roof. The neural crest and its mesenchymal derivatives, the branchial arches, expressed CRABP I and crest could be seen streaming from the neuroepithelium of individual rhombomeres into particular branchial arches. This suggested a fate map could be constructed describing the rhombomeric origin of branchial arch mesenchyme. Later in development, axons throughout the hindbrain expressed CRABP I. The results are considered in terms of the role of retinoic acid in the specification of neuronal phenotype in the hindbrain and in axon outgrowth.