The aim of the present study was to assess genes expressed in maternal uterine tissue and pre-implantation embryos which are presumably involved in maternal recognition and establishment of canine pregnancy. For this purpose, 10 pregnant bitches were ovariohysterectomized between days 10 and 12 after mating. Four non-pregnant bitches served as controls. Early pregnancy was verified by flushing the uterine horns with PBS solution. The collected embryos (n = 60) were stored deep-frozen (-80 degrees C). Uterine tissue was excised, snaps frozen in liquid nitrogen and homogenized using TRI Reagent. All embryos from one litter were thawed together and also homogenized in TRI Reagent. RT-PCR was performed to prove mRNA expression of progesterone receptor, key enzymes of the prostaglandin synthesis pathway, selected growth factors, cytokines, immune cell receptors, major histocompatibility complex (MHC) and matrix-metalloproteinases (MMP). Only pregnant uteri revealed the presence of mRNA for interferon (IFN)-gamma, IL-4 and CD-8, which resembles the milieu in humans and other mammalians. Similarly, in day 10 embryos, mRNA for transforming growth factor-beta, insulin-like growth factor-1,-2, hepatocyte growth factor, leukaemia inhibitor factor, tumour necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-1 beta,-6,-8, cyclooxygenase-2, CD4(+) cells, and MMP-2 and -9 were detected, but not MHC-I or -II. We therefore suppose that the canine embryo, like its human counterpart, actively initiates measures to prevent attacks from the maternal immune system to prepare its own adhesion, nidation, growth and further development.