The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) and the AhR nuclear translocator protein (ARNT) are basic-helix-loop-helix (bHLH) proteins involved in transcriptional regulation. The AhR is a ligand-activated partner of the ARNT protein. Both proteins are required to transcriptionally regulate gene expression. ARNT must be complexed to AhR to permit binding to the regulatory DNA sequence. The AhR-ligand complex is known to mediate a range of biological responses, such as developmental toxicity, induction of cleft palate, and hydronephrosis. AhR and ARNT are expressed in human embryonic palatal cells and AhR was recently shown to have a specific developmental pattern of expression in the mouse embryo. In the present study, expression of ARNT is characterized in C57Bl/6N mouse embryos from gestation day (GD) 10-16 using immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization. Af affinity purified antibody against human ARNT (1.1 micrograms/ml) was detected with an avidin-biotin-peroxidase complex. ARNT mRNA was localized with a 35S-RNA probe from pBM5/NEO-M1-1. Specific spatial and temporal patterns of ARNT expression emerged and mRNA and protein expression correlated. The GD 10-11 embryos showed highest levels of ARNT in neuroepithelial cells of the neural tube, visceral arches, otic and optic placodes, and preganglionic complexes. The heart also had significant expression of ARNT with strong nuclear localization. After GD11, expression in heart and brain declined. In GD 12-13 embryos expression was highest in the liver where expression increased from GD 12-16. At GD 15-16 the highest levels of ARNT occurred in adrenal gland and liver, although ARNT was also detected in submandibular gland, ectoderm, tongue, bone, and muscle. In all of these tissues ARNT was cytoplasmic as well as nuclear, except in some of the cortical adrenal cells in which ARNT was strongly cytoplasmic with little or no nuclear localization. These specific patterns of ARNT expression, which differ in certain tissues from the expression of AhR, suggest that ARNT may have additional roles in normal embryonic development.