We have isolated and characterized a novel Xenopus wnt gene, Xwnt-11, whose expression pattern and overexpression phenotype suggest that it may be important for dorsal-ventral axis formation. Xwnt-11 mRNA is present during oogenesis and embryonic development through swimming tadpole stages. Xwnt-11 mRNA is ubiquitous in early oocytes and is localized during mid-oogenesis. By late oocyte stages, Xwnt-11 mRNA is localized to the vegetal cortex, with some mRNA in the vegetal cytoplasm. After egg maturation, Xwnt-11 mRNA is released from the vegetal cortex and is found in the vegetal cytoplasm. This early pattern of Xwnt-11 mRNA localization is similar to another vegetally localized maternal mRNA, Vg1 (D. A. Melton (1987) Nature 328, 80-82). In the late blastula, Xwnt-11 mRNA is found at high levels in the dorsal marginal zone. As gastrulation proceeds, Xwnt-11 mRNA appears in the lateral and ventral marginal zone and, during tadpole stages, it is found in the somites and first branchial arch. Injection of Xwnt-11 mRNA into UV-ventralized embryos can substantially rescue the UV defect by inducing the formation of dorsal tissues. The rescued embryos develop somitic muscle and neural tube; however, they lack notochord and anterior head structures.