Overexpression and inhibitor studies have suggested that the c-Myc target gene for ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), the enzyme which converts ornithine to putrescine, plays an important role in diverse biological processes, including cell growth, differentiation, transformation, and apoptosis. To explore the physiological function of ODC in mammalian development, we generated mice harboring a disrupted ODC gene. ODC-heterozygous mice were viable, normal, and fertile. Although zygotic ODC is expressed throughout the embryo prior to implantation, loss of ODC did not block normal development to the blastocyst stage. Embryonic day E3.5 ODC-deficient embryos were capable of uterine implantation and induced maternal decidualization yet failed to develop substantially thereafter. Surprisingly, analysis of ODC-deficient blastocysts suggests that loss of ODC does not affect cell growth per se but rather is required for survival of the pluripotent cells of the inner cell mass. Therefore, ODC plays an essential role in murine development, and proper homeostasis of polyamine pools appears to be required for cell survival prior to gastrulation.