We have cloned a Xenopus cDNA related to the twist gene, which is required for mesodermal differentiation in Drosophila. Northern blots of dissected embryos and in situ hybridization show that the corresponding mRNA, called Xtwi, first appears in early gastrulae, and is present only in mesodermal cells. Within the mesoderm, Xtwi is expressed in the notochord and lateral plate, but not in the myotome; therefore there is a complementary pattern of Xtwi and muscle-specific gene expression in the mesoderm. Xtwi expression therefore marks the subdivision of the mesoderm. Xtwi is also activated a few hours later in the early development of the neural crest. This gene is thus expressed in response to two sequential early inductions in frog development.