During frog embryogenesis, mesoderm is specified in the equatorial region of the early embryo by a signal from the vegetal hemisphere. Prospective ectodermal cells dissected from the animal hemisphere can be respecified to form mesodermal tissues by recombination with vegetal tissue or by treatment with any of several polypeptide growth factors or growth factor-like molecules. Together with the discovery that several developmental mutations in Drosophila are in genes with significant homology to mammalian mitogens and oncogenes, these observations suggest that early developmental signals may use similar transduction pathways to mitogenic signals characterized in cultured mammalian cells. Whether mesoderm can be induced by activation of intracellular signal transduction pathways implicated in mitogenesis and oncogenesis has been investigated with the viral oncogene polyoma middle T. Microinjection of middle T messenger RNA into early embryos results in the respecification of isolated prospective ectodermal tissue to form characteristic mesodermal structures. Middle T in frog blastomeres appears to associate with cellular activities similar to those observed in polyoma-transformed mouse cells, and transformation-defective middle T mutants fail to induce mesoderm. These results suggest that early inductive signals and mitogenic and oncogenic stimuli may share common signal transduction pathways.