The cell surface proteoglycan, syndecan, exhibits molecular and histological dimorphism in the mouse uterus and vagina. In the mature vagina, syndecan is localized at the surfaces of the basal and intermediate cells of the stratified epithelium and has a modal molecular mass of ca. 92 kDa. The uterus expresses a larger form of syndecan (ca. 110 kDa) which is detected at the basolateral surfaces of the simple columnar epithelial cells. We have investigated whether epithelial-mesenchymal interactions influence the expression of syndecan in these organs by analyzing tissue recombinants composed of mouse epithelium and rat mesenchyme or vice versa with monoclonal antibody 281-2, which recognizes mouse syndecan. In tissue recombinants composed of newborn mouse uterine epithelium and rat vaginal stroma, the uterine epithelium was induced to form a stratified vaginal epithelium which expressed syndecan in same the pattern and mass typical of vaginal epithelium. Likewise, rat uterine stroma induced newborn mouse vaginal epithelium to undergo uterine development, and this epithelium exhibited a uterine pattern of syndecan expression. Although stromal cells normally express little syndecan in most adult organs, analysis of recombinants composed of mouse stroma and rat epithelium revealed that both uterine and vaginal mouse stromata synthesized syndecan that was larger (ca. 170-190 kDa) than the epithelial syndecans. A quantitative increase in the amount of stromal syndecan was evident when stroma was grown in association with epithelium in comparison to stroma grown by itself. These data suggest that epithelial-mesenchymal interactions influence the amount, localization, and mass of both epithelial and stromal syndecan. © 1991.