Vertebrate 5'-located HoxD genes are expressed in the most caudal part of the digestive tract and their potential functions during gut development have been assessed by gene disruptions. We have inserted reporter lacZ sequences within the Hoxd-12 gene and analysed the morphology of the gut in these mice as well as in Hoxd-13 mutant animals. When homozygous, both mutations induce an important disorganization of the anorectal region. In particular, severe alterations of the smooth muscle layers of the rectum led to defective morphogenesis of the internal anal sphincter. Similarly, Hoxd-12 and Hoxd-13 functionally overlap during digit development. The function of these genes in the morphogenesis of the digestive system as well as their functional evolution are discussed.