Four nodal-related genes (Xnr1-4) have been isolated in Xenopus to date, and we recently further identified two more, Xnr5 and Xnr6. In the present functional study, we constructed cleavage mutants of Xnr5 (cmXnr5) and Xnr6 (cmXnr6) which were expected to act in a dominant-negative manner. Both cmXnr5 and cmXnr6 inhibited the activities of Xnr5 and Xnr6 in co-overexpression experiments. cmXnr5 also inhibited the activity of Xnr2, Xnr4, Xnr6, derrière, and BVg1, but did not inhibit the activity of Xnr1 or activin. Misexpression of cmXnr5 led to a severe delay in initiation of gastrulation and phenotypic changes, including defects in anterior structures, which were very similar to those seen in maternal VegT-depleted embryos. Further, although the expression of Xnr1, Xnr2, and Xnr4 was not delayed in these embryos, it was markedly reduced. Injection of cmXnr5 had no notable effect on expression of Xnr3, Xnr6, derrière, or siamois. Several mesodermal and endodermal markers also showed delayed and decreased expression during gastrulation in cmXnr5-injected embryos. These results suggest that, in early Xenopus embryogenesis, nodal-related genes may heterodimerize with other TGF-beta ligands, and further that one nodal-related gene alone is insufficient for mesendoderm formation, which may require the cooperative interaction of multiple nodal-related genes.