It has been reported that in the chick embryonic retina, N-cadherin first appears at the very early stages and is subsequently substituted by R-cadherin at the middle to late stages of development. To examine the role of R-cadherin in the morphogenesis of chick retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), the distribution of this adhesion molecule was studied by immunofluorescence cytochemistry and immunoelectron microscopy from embryonic day (E) 6 to hatching. R-cadherin immunoreactivity was detected at E6, and was strongest at E12-13. During these stages, R-cadherin was expressed uniformly on the lateral plasma membranes of RPE cells in contact with each other. Thereafter, R-cadherin immunoreactivity was markedly decreased, with intense immunoreactivity restricted to zonulae adherentes in latero-apical regions at E16. R-cadherin immunoreactivity was no longer detectable in the newly hatched chick RPE, even though morphologically well developed zonulae adherentes were present in latero-apical regions. No immunoreactivity was detected on the apical side facing the neural retina or on the basal side facing the basal lamina at any stage of development. These findings indicate that R-cadherin plays an important role as a major cadherin subtype in the morphogenesis of chick embryo RPE, and is involved initially in non-specific cell-cell adhesions, and subsequently in the formation and maintenance of developing zonulae adherentes.