Convergence and extension are gastrulation movements that participate in the establishment of the vertebrate body plan. Using new methods for quantifying convergence and extension movements of cell groups, we demonstrate that in wild-type embryos, dorsal convergence of lateral cells is initially slow, but speeds up between the end of the gastrula period and early segmentation. Convergence and extension movements of lateral cells in trilobite mutants are normal during the gastrula period but reduced by early segmentation. Morphometric studies revealed that during epiboly wild-type gastrulae become ovoid, whereas trilobite embryos remain rounder. By segmentation, trilobite embryos exhibit shorter, broader embryonic axes. The timing of these morphological defects correlates well with impaired cell movements, suggesting reduced convergence and extension are the main defects underlying the trilobite phenotype. Our gene expression, genetic, and fate mapping analyses show the trilobite mutation affects movements without altering dorsoventral patterning or cell fates. We propose that trilobite function is required for cell properties that promote increased speed of converging cells and extension movements in the dorsal regions of the zebrafish gastrula. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.