The 413.d insertional mutation arrests mouse development shortly after gastrulation. nodal, a novel TGF beta-related gene, is closely associated with the locus. The present study provides direct evidence that the proviral insertion causes a loss of function mutation. nodal RNA is initially detected at day 5.5 in the primitive ectoderm. Concomitant with gastrulation, expression becomes restricted to the proximal posterior regions of the embryonic ectoderm. nodal RNA is also expressed in the primitive endoderm overlying the primitive streak. A few hours later, expression is strictly confined to the periphery of the mature node. Interestingly 413.d mutant embryos show no morphological evidence for the formation of a primitive streak. Nonetheless, about 25% of mutant embryos do form randomly positioned patches of cells of a posterior mesodermal character. Data presented in this report demonstrate the involvement of a TGF beta-related molecule in axis formation in mammals.