Cadherin-11 (cad-11) is a novel member of the cadherin family of cell adhesion molecules, having recently been identified by means of the polymerase chain reaction. To study the function and expression of this molecule, we cloned mouse, cad-11 cDNA. Transfection of L cells with cDNA led them to acquire a typical cadherin-dependent cell-cell adhesiveness, and the L cells expressing cad-11 did not coaggregate with L cells expressing E-, P-, N-, or R-cadherin when they were mixed, indicating that this novel cadherin has a homophilic binding specificity, as found for other cadherins. To determine the developmental expression pattern of this molecule, we performed in situ hybridization analysis on early mouse embryos. Cad-11 first appeared in mesodermal layers only in the head and tail regions at the mid-to-late primitive streak stages. In the head, this appearance was followed by strong expression in mesenchymal tissues including branchial arches. In the trunk, the paraxial mesoderm initially did not express cad-11. However, as the somites formed, they expressed cad-11, and this expression was strictly correlated with their initial condensation and segregation from the presomitic mesoderm. The cad-11 expression in the somites was eventually restricted to sclerotome cells. As the limb buds developed, cad-11 appeared in the distal portion of the limb mesenchyme, and, at later stages, its expression was most evident at the peripheral mesenchyme. Cad-11 was thus expressed by restricted populations of mesenchymal cells in early embryos, although it was also expressed in parts of the neural tube, such as the optic vesicle and dorsal midline, and in part of the otic vesicle. As a step to investigate the role of cad-11 in mesenchymal cell adhesion, we dissociated the limb bud mesenchyme into single cells, pelleted them, and cultured them as aggregates. In these cultures, cad-11-positive cells clearly sorted out of the negative cell population, suggesting that cad-11 might be involved in selective association of mesenchymal cells. For comparison, we studied the expression of N-cadherin and found that the expressions of these two cadherins were differential, and complementary in some tissues. These results suggest that cad-11 is involved in specific associations of subsets of mesenchymal cells and also of some neural cells during early embryogenesis.