N-cadherin is a Ca2+-dependent cell-cell adhesion molecule, which was identified in brain cells of mouse and chicken. In the present study, we have determined the pattern of expression of N-cadherin in chicken embryos at various stages by means of immunohistochemistry. N-cadherin was expressed in cells derived from all three primary germ layers. Its expression was transient in many tissues but permanent in others. The transient expression occurred in nephric tubules, skeletal muscles, mesenchymal tissues, endodermal organs, and epidermis, while the permanent expression occurred in nervous systems, lens, and myocardiac cells. Appearance or disappearance of N-cadherin could be generally correlated with morphogenetic events, such as rearrangement, segregation, or association of cells. Comparison of the expression pattern of N-cadherin with that of L-CAM and N-CAM determined by other workers suggests that there is some mechanism controlling expression of multiple classes of adhesion molecules. The pattern of expression of N-cadherin was generally complementary to that of L-CAM; that is, if N-cadherin appeared, L-CAM disappeared or vice versa. We also found cases in which N-cadherin was expressed in the same local regions as L-CAM. The distribution of N-cadherin was similar to that of N-CAM with some exceptions. Thus, N-cadherin and other cell-cell adhesion molecules seem to be expressed under a precise spatial and temporal control so as to be associated with a variety of morphogenetic events during development.