CD24 is a signal transducing molecule on the surface of most human B cells, murine immature T cells, myeloid and erythroid lineage cells. We isolated rat CD24 gene from embryonic brain cDNA library and characterized the gene expression during rat embryogenesis. Rat CD24 cDNA is homologous to murine and human CD24 gene with respect to the structure of signal peptide, N-glycosylation sites, and possible glycosyl phosphatidylinositol (GPI) linker attaching site, suggesting that rat CD24 is a transducing glycoprotein anchoring membrane via GPI linker. In the developing embryo, in situ hybridization analyses revealed that CD24 transcript was detected in primitive ectoderm, mesoderm, and ventral endoderm of day 9 postcoitum (p.c.) embryo. In central nervous systems CD24 transcript was strongly expressed in postmitotic cells of spinal cord, hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain from day 11 p.c. embryo to day 21 p.c. embryo but was dramatically down regulated in adult brain. Furthermore, expression was also detected in epithelium during development of non-neural tissues, such as intestinal mucosal epithelium, nasal epithelium, ductal epithelium of salivary gland, bronchial epithelium, renal tubular epithelium, and hair follicles. In tooth development, where correct epithelium requires epithelial-mesenchymal interactions, CD24 mRNA was specifically induced in mesenchymal cells differentiating into odontoblast in dental papilla, suggesting the pivotal role of CD24 molecule in cell differentiations in vivo. We suggest that CD24 gene may encode the core peptide molecule of 31 kDa GPI linked molecule which has been known to be important in the migration of neurons on astroglial processes during development.