Neu differentiation factor (NDF/heregulin) is a 44-kDa glycoprotein that interacts with the Neu/ErbB-2 receptor tyrosine kinase to increase its phosphorylation on tyrosine residues. In vitro NDF promotes differentiation of certain mammary tumor cell lines to milk-producing cells. As a first step toward understanding the physiological role of NDF, we performed in situ hybridization analyses to determine mRNA distribution in the mouse embryo and to map the gene to human karyotypes. In 14.5-day-postcoitum mouse embryos, NDF expression is confined predominantly to the central and peripheral nervous system, including the neuroepithelium that lines the lateral ventricles of the brain, the ventral horn of the spinal cord, and the intestinal as well as dorsal root ganglia. Other tissues that contain NDF transcripts are the adrenal gland, liver, and distinct cell layers of the dermis and germinal ridge. In situ hybridization of a 3H-labeled probe to human metaphase spreads localized the NDF gene to the short arm of chromosome 8 at bands p12-p21.