The genetic network controlling early dorsal-ventral (DV) patterning has been extensively studied and modeled in the fruit fly Drosophila. This patterning is driven by signals coming from bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs), and regulated by interactions of BMPs with secreted factors such as the antagonist short gastrulation (Sog). Experimental studies suggest that the DV patterning of vertebrates is controlled by a similar network of BMPs and antagonists (such as Chordin, a homologue of Sog), but differences exist in how the two systems are organized, and a quantitative comparison of pattern formation in them has not been made. Here, we develop a computational model in three dimensions of the zebrafish embryo and use it to study molecular interactions in the formation of BMP morphogen gradients in early DV patterning. Simulation results are presented on the dynamics BMP gradient formation, the cooperative action of two feedback loops from BMP signaling to BMP and Chordin synthesis, and pattern sensitivity with respect to BMP and Chordin dosage. Computational analysis shows that, unlike the case in Drosophila, synergy of the two feedback loops in the zygotic control of BMP and Chordin expression, along with early initiation of localized Chordin expression, is critical for establishment and maintenance of a stable and appropriate BMP gradient in the zebrafish embryo. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.