The engrailed gene has been identified in Drosophila as an important developmental gene involved in the control of segmentation. Here we describe the embryonic expression of a chicken gene, ChickEn (Darnell et al.: J Cell Biol 103(5):311a, 1986), which contains homology to the Drosophila engrailed gene. Northern blots of early chick embryo tissue poly(A)+ RNA resulted in hybridization to at least three bands expressed predominantly in the brain/head region when probed with ChickEn genomic fragments. Eight cDNA clones generated from embryonic day 6 (stage 29-30) chick brain poly(A)+ RNA are identical in their nucleotide sequence with the ChickEn genomic clone. In situ hybridization to sections of 4-day (stage 24) embryos indicated that ChickEn transcripts were concentrated in the posterior mesencephalon and anterior metencephalon. In cultures of chick cranial neural crest cells (eight to nine somites; stage 9) ChickEn transcripts were localized in a subset (approx. 8%) of cells examined after 2 days in culture. A mouse monoclonal antibody, inv-4D9D4, made by Coleman and Kornberg recognizes the engrailed-like homeo domain of the engrailed and invected proteins (Martin-Blanco, Coleman, and Kornberg, personal communication). Patel, Coleman, Kornberg and Goodman (unpublished) have shown that this antibody binds to the hindbrain of 2-day-old chick embryos. We have confirmed these results and shown that this antibody binds to the same region of 4-day (stage 24) chick brains that in situ hybridization showed contained ChickEn transcripts. This antibody also recognizes a homeo domain-containing ChickEn peptide expressed as a beta-galactosidase fusion protein in Drosophila cell culture. We have not detected ChickEn protein in any tissue prior to eight to nine somites (stage 9). These results delineate the major expression pattern of the ChickEn gene during early (prior to stage 30) embryonic development in the chick.