Early steps of embryo development are directed by maternal gene products and trace levels of zygotic gene activity in vertebrates. A major activation of zygotic transcription occurs together with degradation of maternal mRNAs during the midblastula transition in several vertebrate systems. How these processes are regulated in preparation for the onset of differentiation in the vertebrate embryo is mostly unknown. Here, we studied the function of TATA-binding protein (TBP) by knock down and DNA microarray analysis of gene expression in early embryo development. We show that a subset of polymerase II-transcribed genes with ontogenic stage-dependent regulation requires TBP for their zygotic activation. TBP is also required for limiting the activation of genes during development. We reveal that TBP plays an important role in the degradation of a specific subset of maternal mRNAs during late blastulation/early gastrulation, which involves targets of the miR-430 pathway. Hence, TBP acts as a specific regulator of the key processes underlying the transition from maternal to zygotic regulation of embryogenesis. These results implicate core promoter recognition as an additional level of differential gene regulation during development.