We report the characterization of two vertebrate homologs of Drosophila mothers against dpp (Mad) isolated from the mouse and the Xenopus embryo, named MusMLP (mad-like protein) and XenMLP, respectively, together with a summary of their expression patterns in the embryo. Overexpression of XenMLP causes ventralization of Xenopus embryos and we demonstrate that the C-terminal domain is necessary and sufficient to confer this biological effect. This domain also has the potential for transcriptional activation, as shown in one-hybrid assays in mammalian cells. We further demonstrate that MLPs are multidomain proteins by showing a cis-negative effect of the N-terminal domain on the transactivation by the C-terminal domain and that the proline-rich, middle domain maximizes the activity of the C-terminal domain. We also mapped the MusMLP gene to a region on mouse chromosome 13 that corresponds to a region on human chromosome 5q that contains cancer-related genes.