The expression of proto-ret mRNA in adult and embryonic rat tissues were studied. Very low levels of proto-ret transcripts were found in adult rat tissues such as brain, thymus and testis. The sizes of these transcripts were almost the same as those found in human neuroblastoma, SK-N-SH cells. High levels of proto-ret transcripts were found in the rat conceptus on days 9 to 11 of gestation, but not at later stages of development. The level of transcripts in the conceptus on day 10 was about 20-50 times that in adult rat thymus. These results suggest that the proto-ret product, which is possibly a receptor-type tyrosine kinase, has special functions during embryonic development.