Longitudinal bone growth occurs in the epiphyseal growth plate and is regulated by a network of paracrine and autocrine interactions. Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) are a family of growth factors whose potent osteogenic properties suggest that they may play an important role within this network, but direct evidence for this is lacking. To address this question, a cDNA encoding chick BMP-7 was cloned from a chick embryo cDNA library. Sequence homology and evolutionary arguments strongly suggested that we had cloned the chicken BMP-7 homologue. Using a reverse transcription-PCR assay, BMP-7 expression was readily detected in bone, growth plate cartilage, brain and heart, and was just detectable in liver, skeletal muscle and adipose tissue. In contrast to the pattern of BMP-7 expression in the rat and mouse, no BMP-7 expression was detected in the chick kidney. In situ hybridization was used to locate the site of BMP-7 expression more precisely within the growth plate. BMP-7 expression was confined to hypertrophic chondrocytes adjacent to and at the tips of the metaphyseal vessels. No expression was detected in the reserve zone or in proliferating chondrocytes. These results point to a specific role for BMP-7 in the growth plate, possibly in osteoblast activation or as a chemotactic agent for the metaphyseal vessels.