Definition of cell fates along the dorso-ventral axis depends on an antagonistic relationship between ventralizing transforming growth factor-beta superfamily members, the bone morphogenetic proteins and factors secreted from the dorsal organizer, such as Noggin and Chordin. The extracellular binding of the last group to the bone morphogenetic proteins prevents them from activating their receptors, and the relative ventralizer:antagonist ratio is thought to specify different dorso-ventral cell fates. Here, by taking advantage of a non-genetic interference method using a specific competitive inhibitor, the Lefty-related gene product Antivin, we provide evidence that cell fate along the antero-posterior axis of the zebrafish embryo is controlled by the morphogenetic activity of another transforming growth factor-beta superfamily subgroup--the Activin and Nodal-related factors. Increasing antivin doses progressively deleted posterior fates within the ectoderm, eventually resulting in the removal of all fates except forebrain and eyes. In contrast, overexpression of activin or nodal-related factors converted ectoderm that was fated to be forebrain into more posterior ectodermal or mesendodermal fates. We propose that modulation of intercellular signalling by Antivin/Activin and Nodal-related factors provides a mechanism for the graded establishment of cell fates along the antero-posterior axis of the zebrafish embryo.