The requirement of vitamin A (retinol) for successful completion of vertebrate embryogenesis is well established. Retinoid signaling involves a two-step metabolic event in which retinol is first converted to retinal, and then retinal is converted to the active ligand retinoic acid, which modulates the transcriptional activity of a nuclear retinoic acid receptor (RAR). During mouse embryogenesis, retinoic acid is not detected at 6.5 days of embryonic development (E6.5) when gastrulation first initiates, but it is detected at E7.5 and later. This suggests that retinoid signaling during embryogenesis may be initiated during the primitive streak stage. Here we have used whole-mount in situ hybridization to examine E6.5-E8.5 mouse embryos for expression of RAR alpha, RAR beta, RAR gamma, and two enzymes, class IV alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH-IV) and class I aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH-I), which have been shown to have retinol and retinal dehydrogenase activities, respectively. At E6.5, RAR alpha mRNA was expressed ubiquitously in embryonic and extraembryonic tissues, RAR gamma mRNA was detected throughout all embryonic tissues, but mRNAs for RAR beta, ADH-IV, and ALDH-I were not detected. By E7.5, RAR alpha mRNA was still ubiquitous, RAR beta mRNA was now observed in presumptive hindbrain ectoderm and adjacent mesenchyme, RAR gamma mRNA was still observed in all embryonic tissues, and ADH-IV as well as ALDH-I mRNAs were now both expressed in primitive streak mesoderm. In E8.5 embryos, RAR alpha mRNA was still ubiquitous, RAR beta mRNA was present in the caudal hindbrain as well as the closed neural tube and foregut, RAR gamma mRNA was widespread but most prevalent in caudal embryonic tissues, and mRNAs for both ADH-IV and ALDH-I were expressed in cranial mesenchyme, somites, and paraxial mesoderm. Thus, ADH-IV and ALDH-1, two metabolic enzymes able to convert retinol to retinoic acid, are both initially expressed in primitive streak mesoderm at E7.5 when retinoic acid is first detectable. On the other hand, RAR alpha and RAR gamma expression is widespread and present at E6.5 prior to retinoic acid detection. These results suggest that upregulation of ADH-IV and ALDH-I gene expression in primitive streak mesoderm may lead to retinoic acid synthesis and initiation of retinoid signaling during mouse embryogenesis.