Utilizing F9 embryonal carcinoma cells as a model system for early mammalian development, we have studied the pattern of expression of the endogenous murine homolog of the human K-fgf/hst oncogene, which encodes a new member of the fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) family. The K-fgf mRNA is expressed in undifferentiated F9 cells and its level becomes undetectable upon the induction of differentiation. Furthermore, a growth-promoting activity with properties identical to those of K-FGF is present in the conditioned medium of F9 cells, but absent in that of differentiated cells. Shut-off of K-fgf expression is mediated at the transcriptional level. The acidic FGF gene is also expressed in undifferentiated F9 cells and down modulated once differentiation is induced. In contrast, int-2, another member of the FGF gene family, is transcriptionally induced in differentiated F9 cells. Our data suggest that single members of the FGF gene family may perform distinct functions in vivo, and that the physiological role of K-FGF may be related to early development.