The ets gene superfamily encodes a class of transcription factors that bind to a purine rich sequence through a 85 amino-acid ETS domain. Among them, the human erg gene has been found to be involved in Ewing's sarcoma, primitive neurectodermal tumour of childhood and acute myeloid leukaemia. Nevertheless, little is known about human erg expression. Northern blot analyses have shown a human erg expression restricted to few cell lines and thymus, but the status concerning expression during development remains unknown probably because no homologue of this gene has yet been isolated and studied in other vertebrates. We thus choose to clone the chicken erg gene (ck-erg) and to study its expression during chicken development. We obtained a bona fide clone of ck-erg and defined the transcriptional modulating properties of its product. The ck-Erg protein acts as a transcriptional activator through a conventional consensus ETS binding site. Northern blot studies on various chicken tissues, in situ analyses and comparison with the well-characterised c-ets-1 expression show that ck-erg is expressed in mesoderm- and, to a lesser extent, in ectoderm-derived tissues. During chicken development, two salient features could be observed. From stage E1 to E3.5, ck-erg expression was widely distributed in mesodermal derivatives and neural crest, resembling c-ets-1 expression. However, by E6, the expression of ck-erg exhibited, unlike c-ets-1, a drastically new and strong signal in precartilaginous condensation zones and cartilaginous skeletal primordia. These stages are the first steps of bone formation during skeletal elaboration. Our results show for the first time a possible specific involvement of ck-erg in cartilage morphogenesis.