Several lines of evidence suggest that the extraembryonic endoderm of vertebrate embryos plays an important role in the development of rostral neural structures. In mice, neural inductive signals are thought to reside in an area of visceral endoderm that expresses the Hex gene. Here, we have conducted a morphological and lineage analysis of visceral endoderm cells spanning pre- and postprimitive streak stages. Our results show that Hex-expressing cells have a tall, columnar epithelial morphology, which distinguishes them from other visceral endoderm cells. This region of visceral endoderm thickening (VET) is found overlying first the distal and then one side of the epiblast at stages between 5.5 and 5.75 days post coitum (d.p.c.). In addition, we show that the epiblast has an anteroposterior-compressed appearance that is aligned with the position of the VET. Intracellular labeling of VET/Hex-expressing cells reveals an anterior and anterolateral shift from their distal epiblast position. VET/Hex-expressing cells are first localized to the anterior side of the epiblast by 5.75 d.p.c. and form a crescent on the anterior half of the embryo at the onset of gastrulation. Subsequently, VET descendants are distributed along the embryonic/extraembryonic boundary by headfold stages at 7.5 d.p.c. The morphological characteristics and position of VET/Hex-expressing cells distinguishes the future anteroposterior axis of the embryo and provide landmarks to stage mouse embryos at preprimitive streak stages. Moreover, the morphological characteristics of pregastrulation mouse embryos together with the stereotyped shift in the position of visceral endoderm cells reveal similarities among amniote embryos that suggest an evolutionary conservation of the mechanisms that pattern the rostral neurectoderm at pregastrula stages.