Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are members of the transforming growth factor-beta family of polypeptide signaling molecules. They function via binding to two types of transmembrane serine/threonine kinase receptors, type I and type II receptors, that are both necessary for signaling. The expression patterns of the type II BMP receptor (BMPR-II) and three type I BMP receptors (ActR-I, BMPR-IA and BMPR-IB) were examined in preimplantation embryos by means of heminested reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). BMPR-II mRNA was detected in one-cell, two-cell and blastocyst stage embryos. ActR-I exhibited a similar expression pattern. BMPR-IA mRNA however was only detected in blastocysts, whereas BMPR-IB transcripts were detected at all stages from the one-cell zygote to the uncompacted morula, but not in the compacted morula and blastocyst. If translated into proteins, this suggests that different receptor complexes can be formed at different developmental stages. Transcripts for BMPs were not detected in preimplantation embryos, but were detected in the maternal tissues surrounding the embryos. BMPR-II, BMPR-IA and BMPR-IB mRNAs were also detected in undifferentiated and differentiated embryonal carcinoma and embryonic stem cells. In postimplantation embryos BMPR-II transcripts were first detected from 6.0 days post coitum. In situ hybridization analysis revealed that BMPR-II mRNA is ubiquitously expressed in the entire embryo at least until midgestation.