During normal human pregnancy, maternal IgG crosses the placenta and provides passive immunity for the fetus. In so doing, IgG passes through two cellular barriers: the syncytiotrophoblast and the fetal capillary endothelium. The Fc region of IgG is required for its transport across the placenta, but the Fc receptors responsible have not been identified definitively. We recently reported the isolation from a placental cDNA library of clones encoding the alpha chain of a human homologue of the major histocompatibility complex class I-related Fc receptor, the neonatal Fc receptor (FcRn). In mice, FcRn is essential for the transport of maternal IgG to the fetus and the neonate. We report here the localization of human FcRn mRNA within the placenta by in situ hybridization, and of human FcRn protein by immunohistochemistry. Both methods show that human FcRn is expressed in syncytiotrophoblast, and is, thus, appropriately located to transport maternal IgG across the first barrier. We confirm previous findings that specific binding of IgG to placental membranes is greater at pH 6.0 than pH 7.5. This corresponds with the pH dependence of IgG binding to FcRn and is consistent with the presence of FcRn in syncytiotrophoblast. We propose a transport model in which maternal IgG binds FcRn at low pH in endosomes within the syncytiotrophoblast. FcRn is not expressed in fetal capillary endothelia, and the mechanism of IgG transport across the second barrier remains unknown.