The Drosophila Notch gene encodes a transmembrane receptor involved in the regulation of cell fate. It exerts its effect by lateral specification, inductive signaling and is also important for cell adhesion and axonal pathfinding. In this report we analyse the expression of the three mammalian Notch homologues during early mouse development by in situ hybridization. The Notch 1, 2 and 3 genes show dynamic and complex expression patterns, in particular during gastrulation and somitogenesis and in early nervous system formation. During gastrulation, the Notch genes are expressed in non-overlapping, successive patterns. Notch 3 is widely expressed in both ectoderm and mesoderm. Notch 2 is then expressed in the node, notochord and neural groove while Notch 1 becomes highly expressed in presomitic mesoderm. As somitogenesis begins, Notch 2 expression is activated in newly forming somites while Notch 3 is activated in mature somites. Various neural crest cell populations and ectodermal placode cells can be defined by expression of specific combinations of Notch genes. All three Notch genes are expressed within cells of the dorsal neural tube at E9.5, although neural crest cells that have begun migrating all show distinct patterns of Notch expression. Finally, Notch 1 expression is observed not only in placodes, but also in cells migrating from placodes to the site of the ganglia anlagen. This expression pattern may be analogous to Notch expression in the peripheral nervous system of Drosophila, suggesting that mammalian Notch genes may also be involved in axonal pathfinding.