The developing vertebrate limb is a powerful system to study genes potentially involved in pattern formation. Many such candidate genes encode transcription factors belonging to the class of the "homeodomain" proteins. In this short review, we discuss the possible functions of different subfamilies of homeobox genes. Genes belonging to the Hox family (related to the Drosophila homoeotic genes), such as the HOX-1, HOX-3, and HOX-4, complexes are probably among those encoding the patterning information. Their differential expression in the mesenchymal compartment is proposed to be responsible for the determination of the various axial elements. Other homeobox-containing genes are expressed in both the mesenchyme of the progress zone and the ectodermal ridge. These genes, Hox-7.1 and Hox-8.1, are related to the Drosophila msh gene and could be involved in epithelial-mesenchymal interactions linking the growth of the system to its patterning