Although palatal shelf adhesion is a crucial event during palate development, little work has been carried out to determine which molecules are responsible for this process. Furthermore, whether altered palatal shelf adhesion causes the cleft palate presented by Tgf-beta3 null mutant mice has not yet been clarified. Here, we study the presence/distribution of some extracellular matrix and cell adhesion molecules at the time of the contact of palatal shelves in both wild-type and Tgf-beta3 null mutant palates of two strains of mice (C57/BL/6J (C57), and MF1) that develop cleft palates of different severity. We have performed immunohistochemistry with antibodies against collagens IV and IX, laminin, fibronectin, the alpha5- and beta1-integrins, and ICAM-1; in situ hybridization with a Nectin-1 riboprobe; and palatal shelf cultures treated or untreated with TGF-beta3 or neutralizing antibodies against fibronectin or the alpha5-integrin. Our results show the location of these molecules in the wild-type mouse medial edge epithelium (MEE) of both strains at the time of the contact of palatal shelves; the heavier (C57) and milder (MF1) alteration of their presence in the Tgf-beta3 null mutants; the importance of TGF-beta3 to restore their normal pattern of expression; and the crucial role of fibronectin and the alpha5-integrin in palatal shelf adhesion. We thus provide insight into the molecular bases of this important process and the cleft palate presented by Tgf-beta3 null mutant mice.