A hamster vimentin cDNA probe has been used to isolate and characterize three Xenopus laevis intermediate filament genes, named XIF1, XIF3 and XIF6. Of these, XIF6 shows 89% homology at the amino acid level to a portion of porcine neurofilament-M. XIF6 is transcribed solely in nervous tissue of embryos, commencing at the late neural tube stage. Expression is totally dependent on an interaction between mesoderm and ectoderm during gastrulation and can be used as a marker of neural induction. XIF1 shows 94% homology and XIF3 83% homology to hamster vimentin at the amino acid level over a region of the protein. Although XIF1 and XIF3 show more homology to vimentin than to any other intermediate filament gene, they have distinct temporal and spatial patterns of expression. XIF1 expression most resembles that of vimentin in higher vertebrates, being expressed in embryonic myotome and nerve cord, whilst XIF3 is unusual in that its expression is restricted predominantly to the head in tailbud embryos.