The TGF beta family of growth factors has been implicated as playing a significant role in many aspects of embryonic morphogenesis, and also as a mediator of adult tissue repair processes. Unlike the situation in the adult, tissue repair in the embryo does not result in scarring, and it has been suggested that this might be due, in part, to reduced levels of growth factors, particularly TGF beta, at the wound site. We have examined the expression patterns of TGF beta genes following wounding of limb bud lesions in cultured E11.5 mouse embryos. The timetable of wound closure was investigated by standard light and electron microscopy from the time of wounding until the lesion had re-epithelialised 24 hours later. The expression of transcripts for each of the three TGF beta genes was examined at various time points during the healing process using radioactive in situ hybridisation to tissue sections and wholemount non-radioactive in situ hybridisation to embryo pieces. Within 1 to 3 hours of wounding, transcripts encoding TGF beta 1 were rapidly induced within the epithelial cells of the wound margin, particularly those cells at the ventral aspect of the wound. By 3 to 6 hours post-wounding, TGF beta 1 transcripts were detectable in the mesenchyme of the wound bed. No TGF beta 3 induction was observed, and possible TGF beta 2 induction was largely obscured by endogenous expression associated with pre-cartilage mesenchymal condensation. Immunocytochemical analysis of tissue sections of the wound demonstrated a rapid induction of TGF beta 1 protein within 1 hour post-wounding, but also a subsequent rapid clearance of the protein from the wound site such that, by 18 hours post-wounding, TGF beta 1 levels had returned to near background. These data are discussed in terms of the molecular mechanisms underlying embryonic wound healing and the significance of the results to an understanding of scarring following adult tissue repair.