The ecotropic viral integration site I (Evil) and related MEL1 (MDS1/Evi1-like gene 1) genes are zinc finger oncogenic transcription factors involved in myeloid leukaemia. Here, we show that in Xenopus, Evi1 and MEL1 have partially overlapping restricted embryonic expression profiles. Within the pronephros, Evi1 and MEL1 are sequentially expressed within the distal tubule and duct compartments, Evil transcription being detected prior to any sign of pronephric morphogenesis. In the pronephros of zebrafish embryos, Evil expression is restricted to the posterior portion of the duct, the anterior portion having characteristics of proximal tubules. In the Xenopus pronephros, Evil expression is upregulated by retinoid signaling and repressed by overexpression of xWT1 and by Notch signaling. Overexpression of Evil from late neurula stage specifically inhibits the expression of proximal tubule and glomus pronephric markers. We show that the first zinc finger and CtBP interaction domains are required for this activity. Overexpression of a hormone-inducible Evi1-VP16 antimorphic fusion with activation at neurula stage disrupts distal tubule and duct formation and expands the expression of glomus markers. Although overexpression of this construct also causes in many embryos a reduction of proximal tubule markers, embryos with expanded and ectopic staining have been also observed. Together, these data indicate that Evi1 plays a role in the proximo-distal patterning of the pronephros and suggest that it may do so by functioning as a CtBP dependent repressor. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.