In recent years it has become evident that the developmental regulatory genes involved in patterning the embryonic body plan are conserved throughout the animal kingdom. Striking examples are the orthodenticle (otd/Otx) gene family and the Hox gene family, both of which act in the specification of anteroposterior polarity along the embryonic body axis. Studies carried out in Drosophila and mouse now demonstrate that these genes are also involved in the formation of the insect and mammalian brain; the otd/Otx genes are involved in rostral brain development and the Hox genes are involved in caudal brain development. These studies also show that the genes of the otd/Otx family can functionally replace each other in cross-phylum rescue experiments and indicate that the genetic mechanisms underlying pattern formation in insect and mammalian brain development are evolutionarily conserved. BioEssays 21:677–684, 1999. © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.