LIGHT (homologous to lymphotoxins, exhibits inducible expression, competes with herpes simplex virus glycoprotein D for HVEM, a receptor expressed by T lymphocytes) is an apoptosis-inducing member of the tumor necrosis factor family of ligands. Messenger RNAs encoding LIGHT and its receptors, lymphotoxin-beta receptor (LTbetaR), decoy receptor-3 (DcR3) and herpes virus entry mediator (HVEM), are present in first trimester and term placentas. Proteins have been localized to specific cells in term but not earlier gestation placentas. Here, we have studied LIGHT and its receptors in early (6-7 weeks) and early-to-middle (8-13 weeks) gestation using immunohistology. Notable cell-specific, gestation-related features were identified. LIGHT and two of its receptors, a membrane-bound receptor that mediates apoptosis (LTbetaR) and a soluble receptor that interferes with LIGHT signaling (DcR3), were present in syncytiotrophoblast and cytotrophoblast cells in all samples but were detected in placental stromal cells only at week 8 and thereafter. HVEM, a membrane-bound receptor that protects against apoptosis, was expressed only on syncytiotrophoblast. These observations suggest that the LIGHT system may regulate early to middle stages of placental development via cell-specific, temporally programmed expression of the ligand and its receptors, and may also assist in preserving placental immune privilege.