The process of palate fusion was examined in 13- and 14-day-old mouse fetuses by using in situ staining for nuclear DNA fragmentation (TUNEL method) and immunofluorescent staining for keratin, with special reference to the disruption of the midline epithelial seam. TUNEL-positive cells were found in the disappearing midline seam and the oral and nasal epithelial triangles at some late stages of palate fusion, but not in the palatal shelves prior to contact or in the intact midline epithelial seam. It seems that DNA fragmentation or apoptosis is required for the midline epithelial seam to disrupt, but may not be necessary for initial contact of palatal shelves or for the epithelial fusion of opposing palatal shelves. A similar sign of apoptotic cell death was observed in the disappearing epithelial seam between the fusing nasal septum and dorsal palate. We have demonstrated that apoptotic programmed cell death does occur at some stages of palate fusion, although the present results do not exclude the possibility of epithelial-mesenchymal transformation and the oral and nasal migration of midline epithelial cells.