maf is a family of oncogenes originally identified from avian oncogenic retrovirus, AS42, encoding a nuclear bZip transcription factor. We have isolated two maf related cDNA clones, maf-1 and maf-2, from a rat liver cDNA library. Comparison of the sequence homologies of the proteins encoded by maf-1 and maf-2 with those of c-maf and chicken mafB indicated that maf-1 and maf-2 are the rat homologues of mafB and c-maf, respectively. Both genes are expressed at low levels in a wide variety of rat tissues, including spleen, kidney, muscle and liver. Immunohistochemical studies and in situ hybridization analyses show that maf-1 and maf-2 are strongly expressed in the late stages of chondrocyte development in the femur epiphysis and the rib and limb cartilage of 15 day old (E15) embryo in rat. Cartilage cells, induced by subcutaneous implantation of bone morphogenic protein, also expressed maf-1 and maf-2. In situ hybridization analyses of E15 embryos show that both genes are expressed in the eye lens and the spinal cord as well as the cartilage. However, the expression patterns of maf-1 and maf-2 in lens and spinal cord are different.