One of a family of extracellular matrix proteins, tenascin-C (TNC) is expressed in a spatiotemporally restricted pattern associated with tissue remodeling during embryonic development, wound healing, cancer invasion and tissue regeneration. Another form, tenascin-X (TNX), is found in most tissues but most predominantly in heart and muscle, often complementarily to TNC. The present analysis demonstrated their expression during early heart development, using mouse lines containing the lacZ gene targeted to the TNC locus, by RT-PCR, immunohistochemistry, and in situ hybridization. TNC was transiently expressed at important steps during heart development: (1) precardiac mesodermal cells differentiating to cardiomyocytes and endocardial cells at E 7.5 - 8.5; (2) cardiomyocytes in the outflow tract at E 8.5 - 12; (3) endocardial cells forming cushion tissue at E 9.5 - 13; and (4) mesenchymal cells in the proepicardial organ (PEO), the precursors of coronary vessels, at E 9.5. When PEO cells were transferred onto the heart surface, the expression of TNC was downregulated, while TNX was upregulated at E 11. Initially, epicardial cells around the AV groove and atrium started to express TNX. TNX-positive cells then gradually spread all over the entire surface of the heart and invaded and formed primitive vascular channels in the myocardium. Despite restricted expression at important sites and steps during cardiogenesis, the hearts of TNC deficient mice developed normally. No difference in the expression pattern of TNX were observed in TNC knockout and wild mice. These results suggest; (1) TNC could play important roles in the differentiation of cardiomyocytes and the early morphogenesis of the heart; (2) TNX could be involved in coronary vasculogenesis; (3) TNX does not compensate for the loss of TNC.