A partial zebrafish tenascin-C cDNA clone was isolated from an embryonic zebrafish cDNA library on the basis of homology to mouse tenascin-C. The expression pattern in the head of embryonic zebrafish was analyzed by in situ hybridization. Tenascin-C mRNA was detected in neural crest cells during the period of their migration and differentiation. Expression also occurred in differentiating placodal tissues and in mesodermal cells. In the developing brain, tenascin-C mRNA was expressed in specific domains. In the hindbrain the pattern of the domains was dynamic. At 18 to 22 h postfertilization, expression was widespread in rhombomeres 3, 5, and 6, confined to periventricular cells in rhombomere 2, and not detectable in rhombomere 4. At 32 h postfertilization, tenascin-C was expressed at the rhombomere boundaries. In contrast to the hindbrain, the pattern in the forebrain and midbrain did not show any major changes between 22 and 32 h postfertilization. Domains expressing tenascin-C alternated with regions devoid of it. The most anterior domain of expression was observed at the telencephalic-diencephalic border, surrounding the optic recess. A second domain, at the border between the diencephalon and the midbrain, and a third domain, in the caudal midbrain tegmentum, appeared restricted to the basal plate. Additionally, expression of tenascin-C mRNA was detected in the hypothalamus and in the developing epiphysis. These expression patterns suggest that tenascin-C may play a role in neural crest cell migration and during the differentiation of neural crest, placodal, and mesodermal derivatives. In the developing brain, tenascin-C may be involved in the consolidation of different regional identities.