Intense efforts have been devoted to the identification of genes that are causatively involved in pattern-forming events of invertebrates and vertebrates. Several gene families involved in this process have been identified. Here we focus on the Xenopus fork head domain gene family. One of its members, XFKH1/Pintallavis/XFD1, has been shown previously to be involved in axial formation, and the expression patterns of the other family members discussed below suggest that they too play a major role in the initial steps of patterning and axial organization. In this report, we describe four Xenopus fork head genes (XFKH3, 4, 5, and 6) and analyze the distribution of their transcripts during early development. XFKH3 is expressed in developing somites but not notochord, XFKH4 in forebrain, anterior retina, and neural crest cells, and XFKH5 in a subset of epidermal cells and the neural floor plate. Finally, transcripts of XFKH6 are seen in neural crest-derived cranial ganglia. In addition, we show that at least some of the zebrafish fork head genes might serve a comparable function. Zebrafish zf-FKH1 has a similar expression pattern as Xenopus XFKH1/Pintallavis/XFD1. It is transcribed in the notochord and neural floor plate. The polster or "pillow" also shows very high levels of zf-FKH1 mRNA.