The carbohydrate side-chain of glycoconjugates can show a developmentally regulated expression pattern. In order to analyse these changes during the development of the eye, 13 lectins were used to reveal glycoconjugates histochemically in 8.5- to 14-day- old mouse embryos. During this period, eyes develop from the most immature vesiculation of the neural plate neuroepithelium into a primitive stage with all structures present, such as pigment epithelium, not yet differentiated neuroretina and lens. A striking diversity of carbohydrate side-chain expression was observed in the preocular somatoectoderm and neural plate of 8.5- day-old embryos, as indicated by the binding of nine different lectins. Binding sites at the apical poles of neuroepithelium of five of these lectins (PNA, LCA, SBA, LPA and GSA-II) disappeared completely during further development. The binding sites of four other lectins, WGA, MPA, Con A and BPA, remained expressed during the course of development, being indicative for the carbohydrate side-chains β-GlcNAc(1-4)Gluc, α-Gal(1-3)GalNAc, α-D-Man/α-D-Gluc and α-GalNAc. In contrast, binding sites for GSA-I, RCA-I (α-D-Gal), UEA-I (α-l- Fuc) and DBA (α-GalNAc(1-3)GalNAc) were not present at any developmental stage. The time point of gross changes of lectin binding sites correlates well with the period of neural tube formation. During later development from neuroectoderm to the ocular pigment epithelium, a sharp reduction in all lectin binding sites at the apical cell poles, except for WGA and MPA, was observed. WGA binding sites were present until embryonic day 10, while those for MPA were present until day 9. At the basal cell poles of the pigment epithelium, all lectin binding sites except for WGA were lost after e mbryonic day 11.5. These results indicate that there are sophisticated kinetics of glycoconjugate expression during the course of early embryonic development of ectoderm into its descendent tissues.