The oro-pharyngeal apparatus has its origin in a series of bulges that is found on the lateral surface of the embryonic head, the pharyngeal arches. The development of the pharyngeal arches is complex involving a number of disparate embryonic cell types: ectoderm, endoderm, neural crest and mesoderm, whose development must be co-ordinated to generate the functional adult apparatus. In the past, most studies have emphasised the role played by the neural crest, which generates the skeletal elements of the arches, in directing pharyngeal arch development, but it has also become apparent that the other tissues of the arches, most notably the endoderm, also plays a prominent role in directing arch development. Thus pharyngeal arch development is more complex, and more consensual, than was previously believed. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.