Tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP, Acp 5) is considered to be a marker of the osteoclast and studies using ‘knockout’ mice have demonstrated that TRAP is critical for normal development of the skeleton. To investigate the distribution of TRAP in the mammalian embryo, cryostat sections of 18 d murine fetuses were examined by in situ hybridisation, immunohistochemistry and histochemical reactions in situ. Abundant expression of TRAP mRNA was observed in the skin and epithelial surfaces of the tongue, oropharynx and gastrointestinal tract including the colon, as well as the thymus, ossifying skeleton and dental papillae. TRAP protein was identified at the same sites, but the level of expression in the different tissues did not always correlate with apparent enzyme activity. The findings indicate that abundant TRAP expression is not confined to osteoclasts in bone, but occurs in diverse tissues harbouring cells of bone marrow origin, including dendritic cells and other cells belonging to the osteoclast/macrophage lineage.