Calponin is an actin-, calmodulin-, and tropomyosin-binding protein that has been isolated from smooth muscle tissue. Using a monoclonal antibody specific for avian calponin, we demonstrate a differentiation-linked increase in calponin expression in embryonic chick gizzard. Cultivation of gizzard smooth muscle cells in vitro resulted in a down-regulation of calponin expression after the first 48 h that was paralleled by a loss of synthesis of metavinculin and the high molecular weight isoform of caldesmon. In early cultures of smooth muscle cells calponin was localised in the actin-containing stress fibres but labelling was restricted to the central parts of the actin cytoskeleton. Calponin expression is suggested as a potentially useful index of smooth muscle differentiation.