Vitronectin (Vn) is not only a major adhesive glycoprotein in plasma but also regulates cell-mediated proteolytic enzyme cascades, including the complement, coagulation, and fibrinolytic systems. This broad functional activity suggests that Vn may also play a critical role in development. To begin to investigate this possibility, we studied Vn gene expression during murine embryogenesis. In situ hybridization analysis of embryonic tissues revealed Vn mRNA primarily in the liver and the central nervous system (CNS). In the liver, Vn mRNA was detected by day 10, the level increasing at later developmental stages. In the CNS, Vn mRNA was also detected as early as day 10 and was confined to the floor plate. However, as development proceeded, high levels of Vn transcripts became prominent in the meninges of the cortex and spinal cord, and in close proximity to brain capillaries. The perikarya of most neurons lacked Vn mRNA. Unexpectedly, high levels of Vn mRNA were associated with capillaries of the CNS, but not with blood vessels of peripheral organs. These results indicate that Vn is expressed in a spatially and temporally distinct pattern during murine embryogenesis, and suggest that the Vn transcript may be a CNS-specific vascular marker.