Nucleosome assembly proteins have been identified in all eukaryotic species investigated to date and their suggested roles include histone shuttle, histone acceptor during transcriptional chromatin remodelling and cell cycle regulator. To examine the role of these proteins during early development we have isolated the cDNA encoding Xenopus NAP1L, raised an antibody against recombinant xNAP1L and examined the expression pattern of this mRNA and protein. Expression in adults is predominantly in ovaries. This maternal protein remains a major component of xNAP1L within the embryo until swimming tadpole stages. xNAP1L mRNA is initially throughout the embryo but by gastrula stages it is predominantly in the presumptive ectoderm. Later, mRNA is detected in the neural crest, neural tube, eyes, tailbud and ventral blood islands. In order to test whether xNAP1L has a potential role in gene regulation we overexpressed this protein in animal pole explants and tested the effect on expression of a series of potential target genes. The mRNA encoding the transcription factor GATA-2 was markedly up-regulated by this overexpression. These data support a role for xNAP1L in tissue-restricted gene regulation.