Defensins are antimicrobial peptides which play a key role in innate immunity. High levels of human beta defensin-1 (hBD-1) have previously been detected in the kidney and pancreas, but the cell-specific location of hBD-1 mRNA has not been determined. The expression of hBD-1 mRNA has been examined in fetal and adult pancreas and kidney by mRNA in situ hybridization. In fetal pancreas, hBD-1 expression was detected in the developing acini and in adult pancreas in the acini, but not in the pancreatic ducts. In both fetal and adult kidney, hBD-1 expression was detected in the collecting ducts and in the loops of Henle in adult kidney. Expression of hBD-1 mRNA in the pancreas and kidney from early development and in the acini of the adult pancreas, rather than in the pancreatic ducts, may indicate that in these tissues, hBD-1 fulfils physiological functions in addition to host defence.