The expression of the mesoderm inducing factors, activins and TGF beta s, was characterized in 5 1/2-9 1/2 day mouse embryos and implantation sites by in situ hybridization. Activin beta A RNA was not detected within the embryo, but is expressed in nearby decidual cells from 5 to 7 days. Thus activin A could play a role within the embyro during gastrulation. Activin beta A is also expressed in more mesometrially located decidual cells from 6 to 9 1/2 days. Activin beta B and inhibin alpha RNAs were not detected, while a control tissue was highly positive. TGF beta 1 is expressed in the secondary decidual zone and in developing endothelial cells in the decidua and embryo. TGF beta 2 is expressed in the mesometrial decidua at 6 1/2 days and in the midline of the cranial neural plate.