Plakoglobin interacts with both classical and desmosomal cadherins. It is closely related to Drosophila aramadillo (arm) gene product; arm acts in the wingless (wg)-signaling pathway to establish segment polarity. In Xenopus, homologs of wg--i.e., wnts, can produce anterior axis duplications by inducing dorsal mesoderm. Studies in Drosophila suggest that wnt acts by increasing the level of cytoplasmic armadillo protein (arm). To test whether simply increasing the level of plakoglobin mimics the effects of exogenous wnts in Xenopus, we injected fertilized eggs with RNA encoding an epitope-tagged form of plakoglobin; this induced both early radial gastrulation and anterior axis duplication. Exogenous plakoglobin accumulates in the nuclei of embryonic cells. Plakoglobin binds to the tail domain of the desmosomal cadherin desmoglein 1. When RNA encoding the tail domain of desmoglein was coinjected with plakoglobin RNA, both the dorsalizing effect and nuclear accumulation of plakoglobin were suppressed. Mutational analysis indicates that the central arm repeat region of plakoglobin is sufficient to induce axis duplication and that this polypeptide accumulates in the nuclei of embryonic cells. These data show that increased plakoglobin levels can, by themselves, generate the intracellular signals involved in the specification of dorsal mesoderm.