An immunohistochemical study of the localization of cytotactin and cytotactin-binding (CTB) proteoglycan throughout embryonic development of the anuran Xenopus laevis reveals that both appear in a restricted pattern related to specific morphogenetic events. CTB proteoglycan expression is first detected during gastrulation at the blastopore lip. Later, it is seen in the archenteron roof around groups of cells forming the notochord, somites and neural plate. Cytotactin first appears after neurulation, and is restricted to the intersomitic regions. Both molecules appear along the migratory pathways of neural crest cells in the trunk and tail. Later, cytotactin is present at sites where neural crest cells differentiate, around the aorta and in the smooth muscle coat of the gut; CTB proteoglycan is absent from these sites. In the head, cytotactin is initially restricted to the regions between cranial somites, while CTB proteoglycan is distributed throughout the cranial mesenchyme. The expression of both molecules is later associated with key events in chondrogenesis during the development of the skull. After chondrogenesis, CTB proteoglycan is distributed throughout the cartilage matrix, while cytotactin is restricted to a thin perichondrial deposit. Both molecules are expressed in developing brain. These findings are compared to studies of the chick embryo and although distinct anatomical differences exist between frog and chick, the expression of these molecules is associated with similar developmental processes in both species. These include mesoderm segmentation, neural crest cell migration and differentiation, cartilage development, and central nervous system histogenesis.