The transition between morula and blastocyst stage during preimplantation development represents the first differentiation event of embryogenesis. Morula cells undergo the first cellular specialization and produce two well-defined populations of cells, the trophoblast and the inner cell mass (ICM). Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) with unlimited self-renewal capacity are believed to represent the in vitro counterpart of the ICM. Both mouse and rat ESCs can be derived from the ICM cells, but their in vitro stability differs. In this study we performed a microarray analysis in which we compared the transcriptome of mouse and rat morula, blastocyst, and ICM. This cross-species comparison represents a good model for understanding the differences in derivation and cultivation of ESCs observed in the two species. In order to identify alternative regulation of important molecular mechanisms the investigation of differential gene expression between the two species was extended at the level of signaling pathways, gene families, and single selected genes of interest. Some of the genes differentially expressed between the two species are already known to be important factors in the maintenance of pluripotency in ESCs, like for example Sox2 or Stat3, or play a role in reprogramming somatic cells to pluripotency like c-Myc, Klf4 and p53 and therefore represent interesting candidates to further analyze in vitro in the rat ESCs. This is the first study investigating the gene expression changes during the transition from morula to blastocyst in the rat preimplantation development. Our data show that in the pluripotent pool of cells of the rat and mouse preimplantation embryo substantial differential regulation of genes is present, which might explain the difficulties observed for the derivation and culture of rat ESCs using mouse conditions.