The Snail protein functions as a transcriptional regulator to establish early mesodermal cell fate. Later, in germ band-extended embryos, Snail is also expressed in most neuroblasts. Here we present evidence that this expression of Snail is required for central nervous system (CNS) development. The neural function of snail is masked by two closely linked genes, escargot and worniu. Both Escargot and Worniu contain zinc-finger domains that are highly homologous to that of Snail. Although not affecting expression of early neuroblast markers, the deletion of the region containing all three genes correlates with loss of expression of CNS determinants including fushi tarazu, pdm-2 and even-skipped. Transgenic expression of each of the three Snail family proteins can rescue efficiently the fushi tarazu defects, and partially the pdm-2 and even-skipped CNS patterns. These results demonstrate that the Snail family proteins have essential functions during embryonic CNS development, around the time of ganglion mother cell formation.