Integrins are cell adhesion receptors that mediate cell-extracellular matrix and cell-cell interactions. Each integrin consists of two glycoprotein subunits (alpha and beta). We have previously described a novel integrin beta-subunit, beta 6, which is expressed in cultured epithelial cells. beta 6 can associate with alpha v to form the fibronectin-binding heterodimer alpha v beta 6. Here we report the tissue distribution of beta 6 integrin mRNA determined by in situ hybridization of a beta 6 cRNA probe with representative frozen tissue sections from a rhesus monkey tissue bank. We detected beta 6 mRNA exclusively in epithelial cells. However, beta 6 mRNA expression varied greatly among different epithelia. High levels of beta 6 mRNA were found only in two very specialized epithelial cell types: a portion of the kidney tubule epithelium, termed macula densa, and the endometrial epithelium of secretory phase uterus. In the endometrium, beta 6 expression was highest in the differentiated epithelium of functional layer glands, suggesting that beta 6 expression can be regulated in a differentiation-dependent manner. beta 6 expression may also depend on the stage in the estrous cycle, since we found much lower beta 6 mRNA levels in a specimen of proliferative phase endometrium. Epithelium in several other tissues, including salivary gland ducts, gall bladder, and epididymis, contained detectable levels of beta 6 mRNA, albeit much lower than in macula densa and endometrium. In other epithelia, including skin and lung, beta 6 mRNA was undetectable. Taken together, these results suggest that in normal adult primates beta 6 expression is regulated in a cell type-specific manner, restricted to a few epithelial tissues.