The expression of decay accelerating factor (DAF) was investigated in human fetal and extra-fetal tissues using a panel of mAb directed against different epitopes on the DAF molecule. By immunostaining, extensive reactivity was observed on the placental trophoblast epithelium and this was confined exclusively to sites of direct contact with maternal blood and tissues at the fetomaternal interface. Within the fetus, by contrast, very little staining was observed especially on hemopoietic cell populations in the developing liver. The antibodies identified a component of 70,000 m.w., comigrating on SDS-PAGE with red cell DAF, on isolated trophoblast membranes and an apparently quantitative increase in the expression of DAF was observed during placental development. Northern analysis using a DAF cDNA clone revealed 1.5-, 1.6-, and 2.2-kb mRNA transcripts typical of DAF in mRNA prepared from whole term placentae and from purified trophoblast cells. DAF appears to be preferentially expressed at the fetomaternal interface during development and may function specifically to inhibit amplification convertases formed at this site either directly or indirectly as a result of maternal complement activation. This molecule may play an important role in protecting the semiallogeneic human conceptus from maternal C-mediated attack.