This review starts from the classical standpoint that there are at least two separable processes acting with respect to axis formation and tissue specification in the early Xenopus embryo: a UV-insensitive event establishing a postgastrula embryo consisting of three concentric germ layers, ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm, all of a ventral character; and a UV-sensitive event producing tissue of a dorsal type, including somites, notochord and neural tissue, and concomitantly establishing the dorsoventral and anteroposterior axes. The experimental evidence suggesting the molecular basis of the dorsal and ventral pathways is reviewed.

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