Cyclin-dependent kinase 8 (cdk8) regulates transcription by phosphorylating RNA polymerase II and TFIIH. The mechanism of zygotic transcription activation during vertebrate embryonic development is poorly understood. Here we describe the cloning and developmental expression pattern of zebrafish cdk8 mRNA. It is highly conserved, sharing 79% DNA and 95% amino acid sequence identity with human cdk8, thereby indicating an important role for the protein. Northern blotting and whole mount in situ hybridisation revealed expression of zebrafish cdk8 maternally, following the onset of zygotic transcription at the mid-blastula transition (MBT) and throughout embryonic development. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.