Inhibition of fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling prevents trunk and tail formation in Xenopus and zebrafish embryos. While the T-box transcription factor Brachyury (called No Tail in zebrafish) is a key mediator of FGF signaling in the notochord and tail, the pathways activated by FGF in non-notochordal trunk mesoderm have been uncertain. Previous studies have shown that the spadetail gene is required for non-notochordal trunk mesoderm formation; spadetail mutant embryos have major trunk mesoderm deficiencies, but relatively normal tail and notochord development. We demonstrate here that spadetail encodes a T-box transcription factor with homologues in Xenopus and chick. Spadetail is likely to be a key mediator of FGF signaling in trunk non-notochordal mesoderm, since spadetail expression is regulated by FGF signaling. Trunk and tail development are therefore dependent upon the complementary actions of two T-box genes, spadetail and no tail. We show that the regulatory hierarchy among spadetail, no tail and a third T-box gene, tbx6, are substantially different during trunk and tail mesoderm formation, and propose a genetic model that accounts for the regional phenotypes of spadetail and no tail mutants.

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