Dystrophin is the product of the Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) gene. Dystrophin-related protein (utrophin), an autosomal homologue of dystrophin, was studied in skeletal muscle from normal fetuses aged 9-26 weeks and one stillbirth of 41 weeks' gestation, and compared with low- and high-risk DMD fetuses aged 9-20 weeks. Utrophin was present at the sarcolemma from before 9 weeks' gestation, although there was variability in intensity both within and between myotubes. Sarcolemmal immunolabelling became more uniform, and levels of utrophin increased to a maximum at approximately 17-18 weeks. Levels then declined, until by 26 weeks sarcolemmal labelling was negligible and levels were similar to adult control muscle. By 41 weeks there was virtually no sarcolemmal labelling, although immunolabelling of capillaries was bright. Similar results were obtained with normal and DMD fetal muscle. Utrophin is therefore expressed in the presence and absence of dystrophin and down-regulated before birth in normal fetal muscle fibres. Samples were not available to determine whether or when, utrophin levels decline in DMD fetal muscle. On Western blots, utrophin was shown to have a smaller relative molecular mass than adult dystrophin, but similar to the fetal isoform. Blood vessels were brightly immunolabelled at all ages, although utrophin immunolabelling of peripheral nerves increased with gestational age.