Insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) and IGF binding proteins (IGFBPs) are paracrine regulators of tissue growth and development, and are expressed at the sites of biological action. To study the role of the IGFs and IGFBPs in mouse placental development, we determined the temporal and spatial expression patterns of the mRNAs at embryonic days 10.5 to 18.5 by in situ hybridization. IGF-II mRNA was expressed strongly in mesoderm and fetal blood vessels of early placenta and in labyrinthine trophoblast of later placenta. In the junctional zone, IGF-II mRNA was expressed first in spongiotrophoblasts, later strongly in glycogen cells and variably in giant cells. IGFBP-2 mRNA was expressed weakly in spongiotrophoblasts and glycogen cells. IGFBP-2, -5 and -6 mRNAs were detected in the stroma of the metrial gland. Myometrium expressed IGFBP-2 mRNA strongly, IGFBP-6 mRNA moderately and IGFBP-5 mRNA weakly. The endothelium of maternal blood vessels in decidua expressed IGFBP-3 and -5 mRNAs, and some deeper vessels expressed IGFBP-4 mRNA. In the yolk sac, IGF-II mRNA was expressed in endoderm and mesoderm, whereas IGFBP-1, -2 and -4 mRNAs were expressed only in endoderm, and IGFBP-4 mRNA in mesoderm. Strong expression of IGF-II mRNA in glycogen cells suggests a role in the autocrine/paracrine regulation of invasion. Similar to rat and guinea pig, but in contrast to man and primates, IGFBP mRNAs, except IGFBP-4, were not expressed in mouse decidua. However, IGFBP-3, -4 and -5 mRNAs were expressed in endothelium of maternal blood vessels, and IGFBP-2 and -6 mRNAs in myometrium, where IGFBPs may play a critical role in regulating trophoblast invasion. These findings suggest possible biological roles of the peptides at the feto-maternal interface.