Growth and differentiation factors (GDF) 5, 6, and 7 are known to play roles in tendon and ligament formation, and are therefore probably involved in the formation of periodontal ligament. In this study, we sought to determine temporal and spatial expression of GDF-5, -6, and -7 mRNA in developing periodontal tissue of rat molars using in situ hybridization. GDF gene expression in the periodontal ligament was first detected in cells associated with the initial process of periodontal ligament fiber bundle formation. Gene signals were also detected in cells located along the alveolar bone and cementum surfaces, the insertion sites of periodontal ligaments, during the course of root formation. GDF expression in these cells were down-regulated after completion of root formation. Our results appeared to suggest the involvement of GDF-5, -6, and -7 in the formation of the dental attachment apparatus.