Background: Very little is known about how intervertebral disc (IVD) is formed or maintained. Members of the TGF-β superfamily are secreted signaling proteins that regulate many aspects of development including cellular differentiation. We recently showed that deletion of Tgfbr2 in Col2a expressing mouse tissue results in alterations in development of IVD annulus fibrosus. The results suggested TGF-β has an important role in regulating development of the axial skeleton, however, the mechanistic basis of TGF-β action in these specialized joints is not known. One of the hurdles to understanding development of IVD is a lack of known markers. To identify genes that are enriched in the developing mouse IVD and to begin to understand the mechanism of TGF-β action in IVD development, we undertook a global analysis of gene expression comparing gene expression profiles in developing mouse vertebrae and IVD. We also compared expression profiles in tissues from wild type and Tgfbr2 mutant mice as well as in sclerotome cultures treated with TGF-β or BMP4. Results. Lists of IVD and vertebrae enriched genes were generated. Expression patterns for several genes were verified either through in situ hybridization or literature/database searches resulting in a list of genes that can be used as markers of IVD. Cluster analysis using genes listed under the Gene Ontology terms multicellular organism development and pattern specification indicated that mutant IVD more closely resembled vertebrae than wild type IVD. We also generated lists of genes regulated by TGF-β or BMP4 in cultured sclerotome. As expected, treatment with BMP4 resulted in up-regulation of cartilage marker genes including Acan, Sox 5, Sox6, and Sox9. In contrast, treatment with TGF-β1 did not regulate expression of cartilage markers but instead resulted in up-regulation of many IVD markers including Fmod and Adamtsl2. Conclusions. We propose TGF-β has two functions in IVD development: 1) to prevent chondrocyte differentiation in the presumptive IVD and 2) to promote differentiation of annulus fibrosus from sclerotome. We have identified genes that are enriched in the IVD and regulated by TGF-β that warrant further investigation as regulators of IVD development. © 2010 Sohn et al.