The basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor stem cell leukaemia (SCL) is a `master regulator' of haematopoiesis, where SCL is pivotal in cell fate determination and differentiation. SCL has also been detected in CNS, where other members of the bHLH-family have been shown to be indispensable for neuronal development; however, no detailed expression pattern of SCL has so far been described. We have generated a map of SCL expression in the embryonic and adult mouse brain based on histochemical analysis of LacZ reporter gene expression in sequential sections of brain tissue derived from SCL-LacZ knockin mice. The expression of LacZ was confirmed to reflect SCL expression by in situ hybridisation. LacZ expression was found in a range of different diencephalic, mesencephalic and metencephalic brain nuclei in adult CNS. Co-localisation of LacZ with the neuronal marker NeuN indicated expression in post-mitotic neurons in adulthood. LacZ expression by neurons was confirmed in tissue culture analysis. The nature of the pretectal, midbrain and hindbrain regions expressing LacZ suggest that SCL in adult CNS is potentially involved in processing of visual, auditory and pain related information. During embryogenesis, LacZ expression was similarly confined to thalamus, midbrain and hindbrain. LacZ staining was also evident in parts of the intermediate and marginal zone of the aqueduct and ventricular zone of the fourth ventricle at E12.5 and E14. These cells may represent progenitor stages of differentiating neural cells. Given the presence of SCL in both the developing brain and in post-mitotic neurons, it seems likely that the function of SCL in neuronal differentiation may differ from its function in maintaining the differentiated state of the mature neuron. (C) 2003 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.