Studies implicate an important role for the mixed lineage leukemia (Mll) gene in hematopoiesis, mainly through maintaining Hox gene expression. However, the mechanisms underlying Mll-mediated hematopoiesis during embryogenesis remain largely unclear. Here, we investigate the role of mll during zebrafish embryogenesis, particularly hematopoiesis. Mll depletion caused severe defects in hematopoiesis as indicated by a lack of blood flow and mature blood cells as well as a significant reduction in expression of hematopoietic progenitor and mature blood cell markers. Furthermore, mll depletion prevented the differentiation of hematopoietic progenitors. In addition, we identified the N-terminal mini-peptide of Mll that acted as a dominant negative form to disrupt normal function of mll during embryogenesis. As expected, mll knockdown altered the expression of a subset of Hox genes. However, overexpression of these down-regulated Hox genes only partially rescued the blood deficiency, suggesting that mll may target additional genes to regulate hematopoiesis. In the mll morphants, microarray analysis revealed a dramatic up-regulation of gadd45 alpha a. Multiple assays indicate that mll inhibited gadd45 alpha a expression and that overexpression of gadd45 alpha a mRNA led to a phenotype similar to the one seen in the mll morphants. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that zebrafish mll plays essential roles in hematopoiesis and that gadd45 alpha a may serve as a potential downstream target for mediating the function of mll in hematopoiesis.