Maternal immune recognition of pregnancy occurs despite the nonexpression of classical major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigenic determinants by chorionic villous trophoblast, which comprise the major surface area where maternal blood contacts fetal-derived cells. cDNA-mRNA in situ hybridization was used to probe expression of transcripts corresponding to nonpolymorphic MHC determinants in first-trimester chorionic villus samples. The HLA-B7 probe hybridization signals were localized to syncytiotrophoblast and to cells of the mesenchyme but not to villous cytotrophoblast. HLA-G mRNA was found only in syncytiotrophoblast. A DR beta clone hybridized to both villous cytotrophoblast and syncytiotrophoblast. The results suggest that expression of trophoblast class I and class II determinants early in gestation (10 wk) may be regulated by posttranscriptional events. This also suggests the potential for maternal antifetal alloimmune responses.