To gain insight into the process of development in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), we sought to identify genes that were differentially expressed at gastrulation. A polymerase chain reaction-based differential screening strategy allowed for the isolation of an Atlantic salmon nucleoside diphosphate kinase cDNA (nm23). Structural characterisation showed a high degree of homology with a large number of previously isolated nucleoside diphosphate kinases (NM23s), both prokaryote and eukaryote, though it represents the first teleost nucleoside diphosphate kinase identified. Highest similarities were found with the type 1 and type 2 NM23 isoforms of mammals. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that the duplication event that gave rise to these isoforms occurred after the splitting of tetrapods and fish, suggesting that the salmon NM23 represents a more ancestral isoform. The position of the salmon sequence on the phylogenetic tree indicates that the salmon genome is expected to have at least three copies of genes from the nm23 gene family. Northern blot analysis showed a single transcript of approximately 0.7 kb in both embryonic and adult tissues. Examination of the temporal pattern of expression of salmon nucleoside diphosphate kinase during embryonic development revealed that this gene is first expressed at the time of gastrulation. Nucleoside diphosphate kinases are thought to have a vital role in regulatory processes such as signal transduction, proliferation and differentiation. Taken together, these results suggest that nucleoside diphosphate kinases have an important role to play in early embryogenic development in vertebrates. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.