Murine and human sequences homologous to the paired box of the Drosophila segmentation gene paired have been reported previously. Here we describe a zebrafish (Brachydanio rerio) paired box-containing clone, pax[zf-a], which is clearly distinct from reported vertebrate Pax genes. The putative protein encoded by pax[zf-a] contains a paired box and a paired-type homeobox separated by a glycine-rich, acidic linker and a carboxy-terminal end which is remarkably rich in serine, threonine and proline residues. By in situ hybridization to embryonic tissue sections and whole mount embryos, pax[zf-a] transcripts were found within restricted regions of the central nervous system and the eye. In contrast to the murine Pax genes recently characterized, pax[zf-a] is not expressed in the segmented mesoderm. At the 17 h stage, pax[zf-a] expression is detected in a defined area of the diencephalon which circumscribes the presumptive thalamus. This suggests an involvement of pax[zf-a] in pattern formation in the rostral brain. The pax[zf-a] gene is also expressed throughout the hindbrain and spinal cord. This hybridization signal is restricted to a longitudinal column which includes the basal plate. Later in development, at 36 h post-fertilization, pax[zf-a] transcripts are no longer restricted to a specific region of the diencephalon, but are distributed over the entire developing brain.