Mice homozygous for the retinal degeneration slow (rds) mutation exhibit abnormal development of photoreceptor cells, followed by their slow degeneration. We have recently cloned the rds gene and determined the structure of the wild-type rds mRNA. Here we show that the gene is expressed exclusively in photoreceptor cells. We demonstrate that it encodes a 39 kd membrane-associated glycoprotein that is restricted to photoreceptor outer segments. By electron microscopy, we show that the rds protein is distributed uniformly within outer segment discs. The developmental appearance of the rds protein coincides with outer segment disc formation. We propose that the rds protein functions as an adhesion molecule for stabilization of the outer segment discs.