Retinoic acid (RA) is known to have dramatic effects on limb pattern formation and has been shown to exert its effects on limbs by converting anterior limb bud cells into cells with posterior positional properties. In this study we find that dissociated posterior limb bud cells from chick and mouse embryos cultured at high density (micromass cultures) are able to stimulate the formation of supernumerary digits when grafted into developing wing buds and that the positional identity of both chick and mouse limb bud cells can be maintained for finite periods of time in vitro. Furthermore, using this assay system we have tested whether anterior cells from mouse and chick limb buds can be converted into cells with posterior identity by exposure to RA in vitro. We find that anterior limb bud cells acquire posterior properties after culture in the presence of RA. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.