Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is a widely produced nonreceptor protein-tyrosine kinase thought to participate in signalling pathways activated in response to cell interaction with the extracellular matrix. Fibronectin-dependent cell adhesion mediated by integrin receptors plays a critical role in mesodermal cell migration during amphibian gastrulation in early development. As a first step toward understanding the role of FAK in Xenopus laevis (Xl) early development, we isolated cDNAs encoding Xl FAK and deduced the entire amino acid (aa) sequence. Xl FAK has 89-91% overall identity to the homologs previously described from mouse, human and chicken sources. Within the catalytic domain, the aa identity is about 97%. Northern blot analysis revealed that abundant maternal FAK transcript is present in Xl eggs, with levels decreasing slightly through cleavage and early blastula stages. At early gastrulation, the FAK mRNA level becomes modestly elevated, followed by a steady decline through late gastrulation. The mRNA level undergoes a further drop at the neurula stage, then begins a steady increase through the tailbud and tadpole stages. These data indicate that the steady-state level of FAK mRNA is regulated during Xl early development, and are consistent with a proposed role for FAK in the process of gastrulation.