The enzyme tyrosinase is indispensable for pigmentation and the gene is expressed mainly in pigment cells. Regulatory elements, at -12 to -15 kb (enhancer) and within the 270 bp directly upstream of the transcription start site, have been described recently and their importance demonstrated in transgenic experiments. We were interested in tyrosinase promoter activity during development and used beta-galactosidase as reporter gene. Transgenic mice were generated carrying a tyrosinase-lacZ fusion gene, containing 6.1 kb of tyrosinase 5' sequences. In transgenic embryos, beta-galactosidase activity was detected along the entire neural tube, with the most prominent expression in the developing telencephalon, and also in the adult brain. Equivalent expression was observed in the developing retina. Tyrosinase protein was identified in embryonic and adult brain, but no DOPAoxidase or tyrosine hydroxylase activity was detected. From our results we conclude that 1) tyrosinase protein is present in embryonic and adult mouse brain and 2) the tyrosinase promoter can direct expression of a reporter gene to pigment cells and neural tissues.