Oct-4 is a maternally expressed octamer-binding protein encoded by the murine Oct-4 gene. It is present in unfertilized oocytes, but also in the inner cell mass and in primordial germ cells. Here we show that the ectopic expression of Oct-4 in HeLa cells is sufficient for transcriptional activation from the octamer motif, indicating that Oct-4 is a transcription factor. Therefore, Oct-4 is the first transcription factor described that is specific for the early stages of mouse development. The spatial and temporal expression patterns were further determined using in situ hybridization. With this technique Oct-4 expression is detected in the oocyte, in the blastocyst and before gastrulation in the embryonic ectoderm. After day 8 Oct-4 expression decreases and is restricted to primordial germ cells from about day 8.5 onwards. Therefore Oct-4 is a transcription factor that is specifically expressed in cells participating in the generation of the germline lineage. Linkage analysis using B X D recombinant inbred mouse strains demonstrates that Oct-4 maps to chromosome 17 in or near the major histocompatibility complex. Several mouse mutants in the distal region of the mouse t-complex affecting blastocyst and embryonic ectoderm formation also map to this region.