The core protein of the proteoglycan at the cell surface of NMuMG mouse mammary epithelial cells bears both heparan and chondroitin sulfate chains and is recognized by the monoclonal antibody 281-2. Using this antibody and the peroxidase-antiperoxidase staining technique in adult mouse tissues, we found that the antibody recognizes the antigen in a highly restricted distribution, staining a variety of epithelial cells but no cells derived from embryonic mesoderm or neural crest. The antibody fails to stain any stromal (mesenchymal) or neuronal cells, with the exception of plasma cells and Leydig cells. Squamous and transitional epithelia stain intensely over their entire surfaces, whereas cuboidal and columnar epithelia stain moderately and only at the lateral surface of the basal cells. Within squamous and transitional epithelial tissues that undergo physiological regeneration (e.g., epidermis), the most superficial and differentiated cell types fail to stain. Within glandular and branched epithelia (e.g., pancreas), the secretory alveolar cells fail to stain. When evaluated by electron microscopy, granular deposits of stain are seen on the plasma membrane, especially on lateral surfaces, but none are noted within the cells or the basement membrane. These results indicate that in adult tissues the core protein of this heparan sulfate-rich proteoglycan is expressed almost exclusively at epithelial cell surfaces. Expression appears to be lost as the cells become either mature or highly differentiated.