The gap junction gene Connexin31.1 has been reported to be expressed predominantly in the epidermis of murine skin. To study the function of this gene, we generated mice in which the coding DNA of the Connexin31.1 gene was replaced by lacZ reporter coding DNA. Using beta-galactosidase staining, we have shown that lacZ/Connexin31.1 was expressed in the spinous and granular layers of the epidermis, in cells of olfactory epithelium and in the vomeronasal organ. During embryogenesis, Connexin31.1 was co-expressed with another isoform, Connexin31, in the post-implantation trophoblast cell lineage and, later in gestation, in placental glycogen cells. Although homozygous Connexin31.1-deficient mice were fertile and showed no morphological or functional defects in adult organs expressing this gene, 30% of the offspring expected according to Mendelian inheritance were lost between embryonic days 11.5 and 14.5 and surviving embryos were significantly reduced in weight near the end of pregnancy. Placentas of Connexin31.1-deficient embryos were reduced in weight and showed altered morphology of the spongiotrophoblast and labyrinth layer. The spongiotrophoblast formed a compact barrier at the decidual border that might restrict the maternal blood supply. We conclude that Connexin31.1 is critical for normal placental development but appears to be functionally compensated by other connexin isoforms in the embryo proper and adult mouse.