In this study, we compare the effects of three mRNAs-goosecoid, activin and Xwnt-8- that are able to induce partial or complete secondary axes when injected into Xenopus embryos. Xwnt-8 injection produces complete secondary axes including head structures whereas activin and goosecoid injection produce partial secondary axes at high frequency that lack head structures anterior to the auditory vesicle and often lack notochord. Xwnt-8 can activate goosecoid only in the deep marginal zone, i.e., in the region in which this organizer-specific homeobox gene is normally expressed on the dorsal side. Activin B mRNA, however, can turn on goosecoid in all regions of the embryo. We also tested the capacity of these gene products to restore axis formation in embryos in which the cortical rotation was blocked by UV irradiation. Whereas Xwnt-8 gives complete rescue of anterior structures, both goosecoid and activin give partial rescue. Rescued axes including hindbrain structures up to level of the auditory vesicle can be obtained at high frequency even in the absence of notochord structures. The possible functions of Wnt-like and activin-like signals and of the goosecoid homeobox gene, and their order of action in the formation of Spemann's organizer are discussed.