The vertebrate Otx gene family is related to otd, a gene contributing to head development in Drosophila. We previously reported on the expression of Xotx2 gene, homologous to the murine Otx2 gene, during early Xenopus development. In the present paper we report an extensive analysis of the expression pattern of Xotx2 during later stages of development and also the cloning and developmental expression of two additional Otx Xenopus genes, Xotx1 and Xotx4. These latter two genes bear a good degree of homology to murine Otx1, higher for Xotx1 than for Xotx4. Both these genes are expressed in the forebrain and midbrain regions and their developmental patterns of expression are very similar, although not perfectly superimposable. Spatial and temporal expression patterns of the three Xotx genes suggest that they may be involved in the early subdivision of the rostral brain, providing antero-posterior positional information within the most anterior districts of the neuraxis. The three Xotx genes are expressed in all the developing sense organs of the head, eyes, olfactory system and otic vesicles. By in situ hybridization the earliest detectable expression is found in anterior mesendoderm for Xotx2, and in presumptive anterior neuroectoderm for Xotx1 and Xotx4. In addition, we examined whether Xotx1 is expressed in exogastrulae, finding that Xotx1 expression can be activated in the apparent absence of vertical signals of neural induction.