Mutations in the mouse quaking locus can result in two different types of developmental phenotypes: (1) a deficiency of myelin in the central nervous system that is accompanied by a characteristic tremor, or (2) embryonic lethality around day 9 of gestation. A quaking candidate gene (qkI) that encodes a KH motif protein has recently been identified. We have isolated and characterized cDNAs encoding the Xenopus quaking homologue (Xqua) and also assembled an almost complete human quaking sequence from expressed sequence tags. Sequence comparisons show that the amphibian and mammalian quaking transcripts exhibit striking conservation, both within the coding region and, unexpectedly, in the 3' UTR. Two Xqua transcripts 5 kb and 5.5 kb in length are differentially expressed in the Xenopus embryo, with the 5 kb transcript being detected as early as the gastrula stage of development. Using an in vitro assay, we have demonstrated RNA-binding activity for quaking protein encoded by the 5 kb transcript. Overall, the high sequence conservation of quaking sequences suggests an important conserved function in vertebrate development, probably in the regulation of RNA metabolism.