We report an analysis of forebrain determination and patterning in the zebrafish Danio rerio. In order to study these events, we isolated zebrafish homologs of two neural markers, odd-paired-like (opl), which encodes a zinc finger protein, and fkh5, which encodes a forkhead domain protein. At mid-gastrula, expression of these genes defines a very early pattern in the presumptive neurectoderm, with opl later expressed in the telencephalon, and fkh5 in the diencephalon and more posterior neurectoderm. Using in vitro explant assays, we show that forebrain induction has occurred even earlier, by the onset of gastrulation (shield stage). Signaling from the early gastrula shield, previously shown to be an organizing center, is sufficient for activation of opl expression in vitro. In order to determine whether the organizer is required for opl regulation, we removed from late blastula stage embryos either the presumptive prechordal plate, marked by goosecoid (gsc) expression, or the entire organizer, marked by chordin (chd) expression. opl was correctly expressed after removal of the presumptive prechordal plate and consistently, opl was correctly expressed in one-eyed pinhead (oep) mutant embryos, where the prechordal plate fails to form. However, after removal of the entire organizer, no opl expression was observed, indicating that this region is crucial for forebrain induction. We further show that continued organizer function is required for forebrain induction, since beads of BMP4, which promotes ventral fates, also prevented opl expression when implanted during gastrulation. Our data show that forebrain specification begins early during gastrulation, and that a wide area of dorsal mesendoderm is required for its patterning.