XIHbox 1 is expressed in a narrow band across the cervical region of Xenopus embryos. The gene produces two related proteins: "long" and "short" XIHbox 1 homeodomain proteins. Injection of antibodies to the long XIHbox 1 protein into 1-cell embryos caused a phenotype in which the anterior spinal cord was morphologically transformed into a hindbrain-like structure. This alteration was restricted to the region normally expressing long XIHbox 1 protein. Injection of long protein mRNA disrupted segmentation and tissue organization without inhibiting cell proliferation. Injection of short protein mRNA into 1-cell embryos produced spinal cord malformations similar, but not identical, to those caused by the antibodies, suggesting antagonistic roles for long and short XIHbox 1 proteins. We immunostained tadpoles carrying extended hindbrains for N-CAM and consistently found defective organization of spinal nerves over the affected region.