Activins are believed to initiate a signal transduction cascade by binding to serine/threonine kinase receptors types I and II. Activins bind to several different receptors in vitro, but the significance of this interaction in vivo has not been confirmed. To test the function of the type II activin receptor (ActRcII) in mammalian development and reproduction, we generated a null mutation in the ActRcII gene in mice using embryonic stem cell technology. We expected ActRcII-deficient mice to phenocopy activin-deficient mice. A few ActRcII-deficient mice had skeletal and facial abnormalities reminiscent of the Pierre-Robin syndrome in humans, but most lacked these defects and developed into adults; their follicle-stimulating hormone was suppressed, and their reproductive performance was defective. These findings confirm a role of ActRcII in activin signalling in pituitary gonadotrophs. The striking lack of overlap between phenotypes of ActRcII-deficient and activin-deficient mice suggests that the ligands that signal through ActRcII during embryonic development are not activins.