A major problem in analyzing gene function during Xenopus development has been the inability to induce gene expression in a temporally controlled manner. We have attempted to solve this problem with a system of hormone-activated protein function, using the myogenic gene MyoD as a paradigm. We show that microinjection of RNA for MyoD fused to the ligand-binding domain of either the estrogen or glucocorticoid receptor results in hormone-dependent activation of MyoD function, as assayed by ectopic induction of muscle-specific actin mRNA. Induction is tightly regulated in both isolated animal caps and intact embryos, with ectopic muscle-specific actin expression inducible after 2 hr of hormone treatment. Higher levels of MyoD-receptor fusion proteins that native MyoD protein are present in embryos, apparently a result of increased fusion protein stability. This is the first demonstration that hormone-inducible fusion proteins can work effectively in a complex embryo.