The death of cranial myotomes during Xenopus laevis embryogenesis is employed as a model system to study programmed cell death. The first primary myotomes to differentiate and functionally develop are in the occipital region of the embryonic head. Between stages 27 (tailbud) and 48 (feeding tadpole), they degenerate and disappear in a craniocaudal sequence. Descriptive and experimental studies were undertaken to establish whether this apparent cell (myotome) death program is autonomous or whether it depends on interactions with surrounding tissues (e.g., otic vesicle). Removal of the adjacent otic vesicle did not affect cranial myotome death. Likewise, grafting the otic vesicle to a novel location along the somite file did not induce local myotome degeneration (death). Cranial myotome primordia grafted into the trunk region degenerated on schedule. Trunk myotome primordia grafted to the cranial myotome location did not degenerate. It is therefore concluded that the cranial myotome death program has become autonomous by the time the cranial myotomes reach the developmental stage of segmentation.