Osteoactivin (OA) is more highly expressed in the bones of osteopetrotic mutant rats (op/op) than in those of their normal littermates and is the homologue of human nmb, a cDNA more highly expressed in melanoma-derived cell lines of low metastatic potential, and of mouse DC-HIL, which has been implicated in endothelial cell adhesion. The human OA gene is found on chromosome 7p15.1 and consists of 11 exons spanning 28.3 kb. Murine OA is encoded by a highly similar gene of 11 exons spanning 20.2 kb on mouse chromosome 6. Human OA uses the same transcriptional initiation site in both bone and kidney as was reported for melanoma cells. OA is expressed in primary human and mouse osteoblast cultures at all stages of differentiation, with increased levels observed concurrently with the expression of osteoblast phenotype markers. OA is also expressed in a wide variety of human and mouse tissues as determined by RT-PCR analysis. Immunohistochemical investigation of OA expression in late mouse embryonic development showed very high, cell-specific expression in the nervous system, basal layer of the skin, germinal cells of hair follicles, and in the forming nephrons of the kidney. Continuing investigation of the cell-specific expression of OA in bone as well as in other tissues will lead to a better understanding of its function in the development of these cell types.