Numerous studies have demonstrated that the midbrain and cerebellum develop from a region of the early neural tube comprising two distinct territories known as the mesencephalon (mes) and rostral metencephalon (met; rhombomere 1), respectively. Development of the mes and met is thought to be regulated by molecules produced by a signaling center, termed the isthmic organizer (IsO),which is localized at the boundary between them. FGF8 and WNT1 have been implicated as key components of IsO signaling activity, and previous studies have shown that in Wnt1 -/- embryos, the mes/met is deleted by the 30 somite stage (∼E10) (McMahon, A. P. and Bradley, A.( 1990 ) Cell 62,1073-1085). We have studied the function of FGF8 in mouse mes/met development using a conditional gene inactivation approach. In our mutant embryos, Fgf8 expression was transiently detected, but then was eliminated in the mes/met by the 10 somite stage (∼E8.75). This resulted in a failure to maintain expression of Wnt1 as well as Fgf17, Fgf18 , and Gbx2 in the mes/met at early somite stages, and in the absence of the midbrain and cerebellum at E17.5. We show that a major cause of the deletion of these structures is ectopic cell death in the mes/met between the 7 and 30 somite stages. Interestingly, we found that the prospective midbrain was deleted at an earlier stage than the prospective cerebellum. We observed a remarkably similar pattern of cell death in Wnt1 null homozygotes,and also detected ectopic mes/met cell death in En1 null homozygotes. Our data show that Fgf8 is part of a complex gene regulatory network that is essential for cell survival in the mes/met.