Tyrosinase, the key enzyme in melanin synthesis, is expressed in pigment cells derived from both neural crest and neuroectoderm. The present study was performed to detect tyrosinase promoter activity and tyrosinase gene expression during murine brain development. Mouse tyrosinase 5' region (6.1 Kb) was used to direct lacZ expression in transgenic mice. During embryogenesis, the transgene reproduced tyrosinase expression in pigment cells but was also observed in embryonic neuroectoderm and migrating neural crest cells. Both tyrosinase and lacZ were detected in cell populations often organized in columnar arrangements and found throughout the entire neural tube, in the cranial region as well as in the spinal chord. In the developing brain, the highest density of positive cells was localized to ventricular and subventricular zones and to evaginations of the neural tube such as optic vesicle, pineal gland, and olfactory bulbs. These results demonstrate that tyrosinase promoter activity and tyrosinase expression are not restricted to differentiated pigment cells. We suggest that tyrosinase is a new marker for cell populations in the neural tube, and that expression is correlated to regions undergoing rapid cell proliferation.