Embryonal carcinoma and embryonic stem cells expressed a novel form of platelet-derived growth factor receptor mRNA which was approximately 1,100 base pairs shorter than the 5.3-kilobase (kb) transcript expressed in fibroblasts and other cell types. The 4.2-kb stem cell transcript was initiated within the genomic region immediately upstream of exon 6 of the 5.3-kb transcript and therefore lacked the first five exons, which encode much of the extracellular domain of the receptor expressed in fibroblasts. In stem cells, the short form was predominant, although both forms were present at low levels. Following differentiation in vitro, expression levels of the long form increased dramatically. These findings suggest that during early embryogenesis, a stem cell-specific promoter is used in a stage- and cell type-specific manner to express a form of the platelet-derived growth factor receptor that lacks much of the extracellular domain and may function independently of ligand.