Synaptonemal complexes (SCs) are zipperlike structures that are assembled between homologous chromosomes during meiotic prophase. They consist of two axial elements (AEs) (one along each of the two homologous chromosomes), which, in mature SCs, are connected by numerous transverse filaments along their length. Several proteins involved in the later steps of meiotic recombination most probably function in close association with the AEs of SCs, because the proteins involved in these steps have all been localised along AEs or SCs by immunocytochemical methods. It is not known at which step in meiotic recombination this association with the AEs is established. In order to shed some light on this issue, we analysed the localisation of two proteins that are involved in early steps of meiotic recombination, RAD50 and MRE11, relative to AEs and SCs by immunofluorescence labelling of paraffin sections of the mouse testis, using affinity-purified polyclonal antibodies against RAD50 and MRE11, and monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies against SC components. The localisation patterns of MRE11 and RAD50 within spermatocytes were very similar. MRE11 and RAD50 appeared in high abundance in preleptotene spermatocytes, just before SC components could be detected. From preleptotene until early zygotene they were present throughout the nucleus. In mid and late zygotene, MRE11 and RAD50 concentrated in distinct areas; in early pachytene the two proteins had almost disappeared from the nucleus, except from the sex vesicle (the chromatin of the XY bivalent), where they persisted in high abundance until diplotene. We propose that MRE11 and RAD50, together with other proteins, prepare chromatin throughout the early meiotic prophase nucleus for the initiation of meiotic recombination. Possibly, only a small fraction of the RAD50- and MRE11-containing (pre)recombination complexes associates transiently with AEs, where further steps in meiotic recombination can take place.