The Drosophila homeoproteins Ara and Caup are members of a combination of factors (prepattern) that control the highly localized expression of the proneural genes achaete and scute. We have identified two Xenopus homologs of ara and caup, Xiro1 and Xiro2. Similarly to their Drosophila counterparts, they control the expression of proneural genes and, probably as a consequence, the size of the neural plate. Moreover, Xiro1 and Xiro2 are themselves controlled by noggin and retinoic acid and, similarly to ara and caup, they are overexpressed by expression in Xenopus embryos of the Drosophila cubitus interruptus gene. These and other findings suggest the conservation of at least part of the genetic cascade that regulates proneural genes, and the existence in vertebrates of a prepattern of factors important to control the differentiation of the neural plate.