Gap junctions appear de novo during compaction in the eight-cell stage of mouse development. This is a critical event in the life of the embryo, because gap junctional intercellular communication is an essential requirement for maintaining compaction and, hence, for development of the blastocyst. Recently, a family of genes encoding gap junction proteins (connexins) has been identified and cloned, and we have taken advantage of the availability of antibodies and cDNA probes to investigate the expression of these genes in early development. We found that a protein with antigenic and size similarity to the "liver" gap junction protein, connexin32, is present throughout preimplantation development from the zygote through the late morula. Connexin32 mRNA, however, could not be detected in any preimplantation stage. This, and the presence of connexin32 in zygotes before activation of embryonic transcription, leads us to conclude that this protein is inherited as an oogenetic product that persists well beyond the transition from the oogenetic to embryonic program of gene expression. Furthermore, we found that mRNA for another gap junction protein, connexin43, is fairly abundant in preimplantation embryos. We conclude that it is more likely connexin43, and not connexin32, that is used to assemble new connexons as the level of intercellular coupling increases after compaction.