Expression of alpha-fetoprotein, carbamoylphosphate synthase and albumin, that are generally accepted markers for the hepatic phenotype, require a distinct set of transcription factors. We investigated by in situ hybridization whether this set of transcription factors, LF-B1, C/EBP, DBP and LAP/LIP, is expressed coordinately in the liver during embryonic development and to what extent they are also expressed elsewhere. Our results demonstrate that mRNA levels of all transcription factors tested are significantly above background in the whole embryo and are either reduced or enhanced in expression during subsequent development. Interestingly, cardiac mesoderm, which induces prehepatic endoderm to liver formation, is temporarily permissive to its own signals, showing enhanced expression of these transcription factors and, as a result, the hepatocyte-specific genes alpha-fetoprotein and carbamoylphosphate synthase. In addition, these transcription factors and many liver-specific structural genes rise concomitantly in intestine and kidney just before birth, suggesting the expression of hepatogenic factors in these tissues as well. Despite the extrahepatic expression of these transcription factors, expression of albumin remains confined to the liver at all developmental stages.