Primary palatogenesis in mice is similar to that in humans, and spontaneous cleft lip appears to be multifactorially determined in both. Binding of a ligand to erbB4 has been shown to stimulate the receptor's protein kinase activity, which subsequently stimulates a signal-transduction cascade leading to cell growth and differentiation, and to morphogenesis during development. In this study, an immunohistochemical technique was used to investigate the temporal and spatial expression of erbB4 in the primary palate of cleft (A/WySn) and noncleft strains of mice (BALB/cBy). Positive staining of erbB4 was found in ectodermal and mesenchymal cells of facial prominences before the primary palate formation stage (day 10, hour 20) in both strains. During the primary palate formation stage (day 11, hour 20), positive staining of erbB4 was found in the ectodermal and mesenchymal cells of the facial prominences of the noncleft strain, but not in those of the cleft strain. These results suggest erbB4 expression may be associated with normal primary palatogenesis of mice and, conversely, cleft lip may be associated with a deficiency of erbB4 expression during primary palate formation in mice.