A NF-kappaB-Twist-Snail network controls axis and mesoderm formation in Drosophila. Using translation-blocking morpholinos and hormone-regulated proteins, we demonstrate the presence of an analogous network in the early Xenopus embryo. Loss of twist (twist1) function leads to a reduction of mesoderm and neural crest markers, an increase in apoptosis, and a decrease in snail1 (snail) and snail2 (slug) mRNA levels. Injection of snail2 mRNA rescues twist's loss of function phenotypes and visa versa. In the early embryo NF-kappaB/RelA regulates twist, snail2, and snail1 mRNA levels; similarly Nodal/Smad2 regulate twist, snail2, snail1, and relA RNA levels. Both Twist and Snail2 negatively regulate levels of cerberus RNA, which encodes a Nodal, bone morphogenic protein (BMP), and Wnt inhibitor. Cerberus's anti-Nodal activity inhibits NF-kappaB activity and decreases relA RNA levels. These results reveal both conserved and unexpected regulatory interactions at the core of a vertebrate's mesodermal specification network.