The anteroposterior character of mesoderm induced by a peptide growth factor (XTC-MIF) was tested by transplantation into host Xenopus gastrulae. Both retinoic acid and a homeodomain protein were able to override the anteriorizing effect of the growth factor. Microinjection of a posteriorly expressed homeobox mRNA can respecify anteroposterior identity, transforming head mesoderm into tail-inducing mesoderm. Unexpectedly, overexpression of XIHbox 6 protein in the transplanted cells, without addition of growth factors, caused the formation of tail-like structures. The cells overexpressing XIHbox 6 were able to recruit cells from the host into the secondary axis. The results suggest that vertebrate homeodomain proteins are part of the biochemical pathway leading to the generation of the body axis.