In order to study sequences involved in the developmentally regulated and tissue-specific expression of the class I Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genes, we have constructed several H-2/lacZ transgenic lines in which the 5' regulatory sequences of the H-2Kb gene are linked to the Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase (lacZ) gene. In five H-2/lacZ lines, the pattern of lacZ expression, detected histochemically varied greatly from line to line. None of the H-2/lacZ transgenes were transcribed in cells normally expressing a high level of endogenous H-2 molecules, although these H-2 regulatory sequences have been shown to be sufficient to drive tissue-specific expression of other reporter genes. Interestingly, when constructs containing 5' beta 2-microglobulin (beta 2m) regulatory sequences linked to lacZ were used to derive transgenic lines, similar results were obtained. A survey of lacZ labeling in H-2/lacZ and beta 2m/lacZ transgenic mice strongly suggests that these transgenes are very sensitive to position effect, lacZ expression being controlled by endogenous chromosomal regulatory elements specific for each insertion site. Here we describe the complex pattern of lacZ expression in the different transgenic lines during development; we discuss the unusual properties of these transgenes and underline their potential use for developmental studies and characterization of genomic sequences involved in spatiotemporal gene expression.