In Drosophila and Caenorhabditis, signal transduction pathways initiated by the activation of receptor-protein tyrosine kinases can mediate developmental fate decisions. In order to examine whether similar mechanisms are employed during mammalian embryogenesis, we undertook a search for novel protein kinases expressed during heart development in the mouse. The primitive mouse heart is formed between 7.75 and 8.5 days post coitum (dpc) and consists of myocardial and endocardial cells. A reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction-based approach was used to amplify protein kinase specific products from cDNAs obtained from 8.5 dpc heart tissue. Twenty independent PCR products corresponding to either protein serine/threonine or tyrosine kinases were identified. In this report, we describe the characterization of two of the genes corresponding to the novel PCR products (designated Hek2 and msk). Hek2 encodes the mouse ortholog of human HEK2, a recently identified member of the eph receptor-protein tyrosine kinase gene family. Prior to and at the time of heart formation (7.5-8.0 dpc), Hek2 is expressed in the cranial (rostral) region of the embryo from which a subpopulation of cells will give rise to the rudimentary heart. Between 8.0 and 9.5 dpc, Hek2 mRNA expression is observed in myocardial cells, head mesenchyme and paraxial mesoderm. Hek2 transcripts are not detected in endocardial cells. After 9.5 dpc, Hek2 expression is downregulated. msk (for myocardial SNF1-like kinase) encodes a putative protein serine/threonine kinase most similar to the yeast gene SNF1. msk mRNA expression is restricted to myocardial cells and their progenitors in the 7.75-8.5 dpc developing heart. Subsequently, msk mRNA expression is rapidly downregulated. The patterns of Hek2 and msk expression suggest that these protein kinases may function during development of the primitive heart.