Angioblasts are precursor cells of the vascular endothelium which organize into the primitive blood vessels during embryogenesis. The molecular mechanisms underlying patterning of the embryonic vasculature remain unclear. Mutational analyses of the receptor tyrosine kinase flk-1 and its ligand vascular endothelial growth factor, VEGF, indicate that these molecules are critical for vascular development. Targeted ablation of the flk-1 gene results in complete failure of blood and vascular development (F. Shalaby et al. (1995) Nature 376, 62–66), while targeted ablation of the VEGF gene results in gross abnormalities in vascular patterning (P. Carmeliet et al. (1996) Nature 380, 435–439; N. Ferrara et al. (1996) Nature 380, 439–442). Here we report a role for VEGF in patterning the dorsal aorta of the Xenopus embryo. We show that the diffusible form of VEGF is expressed by the hypochord, which lies at the embryonic midline immediately dorsal to the location of the future dorsal aorta. We find that, initially, no flk-1-expressing angioblasts are present at this location, but that during subsequent development, angioblasts migrate from the lateral plate mesoderm to the midline where they form a single dorsal aorta. We have demonstrated that VEGF can act as a chemoattractant for angioblasts by ectopic expression of VEGF in the embryo. These results strongly suggest that localized sources of VEGF play a role in patterning the embryonic vasculature.