Several behavioral and physiological processes such as social, sexual, and maternal behaviors, learning and memory, and parturition are influenced by the neurohypophysial peptide oxytocin. Studies in knockout mice have identified four transcriptional regulatory genes that are required for oxytocin neuronal development in the hypothalamus. These are the basic helix-loop-helix PAS genes Single-minded 1 (Sim1) and Arylhydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator 2 (Arnt2), the POU homeobox gene Pou3f2, and the paired homeobox gene Orthopedia (Otp). Overall, however, the molecular control of oxytocin cell development is poorly understood. Studies in zebrafish provide a complementary view to mouse knockout experiments and facilitate understanding of neuroendocrine cell development. Isotocin, which is orthologous to oxytocin, is expressed early in the developing zebrafish brain. In this paper we show that zebrafish otp mRNA expression in the embryonic forebrain is dynamic and complex, and that it overlaps with isotocin expression in the dorsal preoptic area. Additionally, these studies demonstrate that otp is required for isotocin cell development. Evidence is also provided that otp and sim1 function in parallel to direct the differentiation of isotocin cells, and that otp is unlikely to affect brain patterning. Overall, these studies support the hypothesis that the role of otp in zebrafish neuroendocrine cell development is evolutionarily conserved with that of mammals.