After implantation, mouse embryos deficient for the activity of the transforming growth factor-beta member Nodal fail to form both the mesoderm and the definitive endoderm. They also fail to specify the anterior visceral endoderm, a specialized signaling center which has been shown to be required for the establishment of anterior identity in the epiblast. Our study reveals that Nodal-/- epiblast cells nevertheless express prematurely and ectopically molecular markers specific of anterior fate. Our analysis shows that neural specification occurs and regional identities characteristic of the forebrain are established precociously in the Nodal-/- mutant with a sequential progression equivalent to that of wild-type embryo. When explanted and cultured in vitro, Nodal-/- epiblast cells readily differentiate into neurons. Genes normally transcribed in organizer-derived tissues, such as Gsc and Foxa2, are also expressed in Nodal-/- epiblast. The analysis of Nodal-/-;Gsc-/- compound mutant embryos shows that Gsc activity plays no critical role in the acquisition of forebrain characters by Nodal-deficient cells. This study suggests that the initial steps of neural specification and forebrain development may take place well before gastrulation in the mouse and highlights a possible role for Nodal, at pregastrula stages, in the inhibition of anterior and neural fate determination.