The novel gene ashwin was isolated in a differential display screen for genes activated or up-regulated early in neural specification. ashwin is expressed maternally and zygotically, and it is up-regulated in the neural ectoderm after the midgastrula stage. It is expressed in the neural plate and later in the embryonic brain, eyes, and spinal cord. Overexpression of ashwin in whole embryos leads to anterior truncations and other defects. However, a second Organizer does not form, and the secondary axial structures may result from splitting of the Organizer, rather than axis duplication. Morpholino oligonucleotide-mediated reduction in ashwin expression leads to lethality or abnormalities in gastrulation, as well as significant apoptosis in midgastrula embryos. Apoptosis is also observed in midgastrula embryos overexpressing ashwin. Coexpression of ashwin with the bone morphogenetic protein-4 antagonist noggin has a synergistic effect on neural-specific gene expression in isolated animal cap ectoderm. Ashwin has no previously characterized domains, although two nuclear localization signals can be identified. Orthologues have been identified in the human, mouse, chicken, and pufferfish genomes. Our results suggest that ashwin regulates cell survival and anteroposterior patterning. Developmental Dynamics 235:1895–1907, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.