The EGF-CFC gene cripto governs anterior–posterior (A–P) axis specification in the vertebrate embryo. Existing models suggest that Cripto facilitates binding of Nodal to an ActRII–activin-like kinase (ALK) 4 receptor complex. Cripto also has a crucial function in cellular transformation that is independent of Nodal and ALK4. However, how ALK4-independent Cripto pathways function in vivo has remained unclear. We have generated cripto mutants carrying the amino acid substitution F78A, which blocks the Nodal–ALK4–Smad2 signaling both in embryonic stem cells and cell-based assays. In criptoF78A/F78A mouse embryos, Nodal fails to expand its own expression domain and that of cripto, indicating that F78 is essential in vivo to stimulate Smad-dependent Nodal autoinduction. In sharp contrast to cripto-null mutants, criptoF78A/F78A embryos establish an A–P axis and initiate gastrulation movements. Our findings provide in vivo evidence that Cripto is required in the Nodal–Smad2 pathway to activate an autoinductive feedback loop, whereas it can promote A–P axis formation and initiate gastrulation movements independently of its stimulatory effect on the canonical Nodal–ALK4–Smad2 signaling pathway.