The discovery of homeobox genes in vertebrates may allow analysis of a basic problem in developmental neurobiology: how regional differences in CNS organization are specified during development. This view is based on the roles defined for homologous genes in Drosophila development, and is supported by studies of the patterns of homeobox gene expression in vertebrate embryos. Homeobox genes comprise a multigene family, members of which are expressed in different spatially restricted domains along the anterior-posterior axis of the CNS. These observations are consistent with homeobox genes having roles in the positional specification of CNS organization, and experimental tests of this should be forthcoming shortly.