Our previous research has demonstrated that lens induction in Xenopus laevis requires inductive interactions prior to contact with the optic vesicle, which classically had been thought to be the major lens inductor. The importance of these early interactions has been verified by demonstrating that lens ectoderm is specified by the time it comes into contact with the optic vesicle. It has been argued that the tissues which underlie the presumptive lens ectoderm during gastrulation and neurulation, dorsolateral endoderm and mesoderm, are the primary early inductors. We show here, however, that these tissues alone cannot elicit lens formation in Xenopus ectoderm. Evidence is presented that presumptive anterior neural plate tissue (which includes the early eye rudiment) is an essential early lens inductor in Xenopus. The presence of dorsolateral mesoderm appears to enhance this response. These findings support a model in which an essential inductive signal passes through the plane of ectoderm during gastrula and early neurula stages from presumptive anterior neural tissue to the presumptive lens ectoderm. Since there is evidence for such interactions within a tissue layer in mesodermal and neural induction as well, this may be a general feature of the initial stages of determination of many tissues.