Patterning along the dorsal-ventral (D-V) axis of Xenopus and Drosophila embryos is believed to occur through a conserved molecular mechanism, with homologous proteins Chordin and Short gastrulation (Sog) antagonizing signaling by bone morphogenetic protein 4 (BMP-4) and Decapentaplegic (Dpp), respectively. We have isolated a zebrafish gene that is highly homologous to chordin and sog within cysteine-rich domains and exhibits conserved aspects of expression and function. As in Xenopus embryos, zebrafish chordin is expressed in the organizer region and transiently in axial mesoderm. Injection of zebrafish chordin mRNA to the ventral side of Xenopus embryos induced secondary axes. Ectopic overexpression in zebrafish resulted in an expansion of paraxial mesoderm and neurectoderm at the expense of more lateral and ventral derivatives, producing a range of defects similar to those of dorsalized zebrafish mutants (Mullins et al., 1996). In accordance with the proposed function of chordin in D-V patterning, dorsalized zebrafish mutants showed expanded domains of chordin expression by midgastrulation, while some ventralized mutants had reduced expression; however, in all mutants examined, early organizer expression was unaltered. In contrast to Xenopus, zebrafish chordin is also expressed in paraxial mesoderm and ectoderm and in localized regions of the developing brain, suggesting that there are additional roles for chordin in zebrafish embryonic development. Surprisingly, paraxial mesodermal expression of chordin appeared unaltered in spadetail mutants that later lack trunk muscle (Kimmel et al., 1989), while axial mesodermal expression was affected. This finding reveals an unexpected function for spadetail in midline mesoderm and in differential regulation of chordin expression during gastrulation.