In this paper we show that large changes in ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) activity occurred during early Xenopus development. Following fertilization, this enzyme activity rises with a quantitatively correlated accumulation of putrescine and spermidine. This increase in ODC activity was associated with an increased translation of the maternal ODC mRNA, which was stable in the embryo and whose polyadenylation increased slightly between fertilization and the mid-blastula transition (MBT). ODC activity was stable in cycloheximide-treated embryos, indicating that before the MBT this enzyme was not degraded. After the MBT, ODC activity fell, but no decrease in this mRNA was observed. In gastrulae, ODC mRNA was both increased in amount and polyadenylated. The reduced ODC activity at this stage of development was not associated with a fall in ribosome loading of the mRNA. Treatment of post-MBT embryos with cycloheximide lead to an accentuation of the normally observed decrease in ODC activity. Expression of Xenopus ODC in mutant ODC-deficient Chinese hamster ovary cells (C 55.7 cells) showed that the Xenopus enzyme was rapidly degraded and can be regulated post-translationally by polyamines, indicating that the post-MBT fall in ODC activity could be caused by a change in protein turnover or by polyamine-mediated regulation.