Résumé : Pleiotrophin (PTN), also known as HB-GAM, belongs to an emerging cytokine family unrelated to other growth factors. We report here the first comprehensive study using in situ hybridization on the cellular distribution of this new heparin-binding growth factor mRNA in rat tissues. PTN mRNA was developmentally expressed in many--but not all--neuroectodermal and mesodermal lineages, whilst no PTN mRNA was detected in endoderm, ectoderm and trophoblast. PTN mRNA was found in the nervous system throughout development, with a post-natal peak of expression. In the adult nervous system, significant expression persisted in hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons and in cortical neurons, but also in different non-neuronal cells types in various locations (olfactory nerve, cerebellar astrocytes, pituicytes, Schwann cells surrounding the neurons in sensory ganglia). PTN mRNA was also found during development in the mesenchyme of lung, gut, kidney and reproductive tract, in bone and cartilage progenitors, in dental pulp, in myoblasts, and in several other sites. Expression was differently regulated in each location, but usually faded around birth. In the adult, PTN mRNA was still present in the meninges, the iris, the Leydig cells of the testis and in the uterus. PTN mRNA was also strongly expressed in the basal layers of the tongue epithelium, which is the only epithelium and ectodermal derivative to express PTN mRNA, and this only after birth. PTN is known to be a growth factor for perinatal brain neurons and a mitogen for fibroblasts in vitro. Recently, trophic effects on epithelial cells and a role as a tumour growth factor have been reported. The mechanisms of regulation and the functions of PTN are however still uncertain. Its expression pattern during development suggests important roles in growth and differentiation. Moreover, the presence of PTN mRNA in several adult tissues and the up-regulation of PTN mRNA expression in the gravid uterus indicate that PTN also has physiological functions during adulthood.