Spacing patterns are of fundamental importance in various repeated structures which develop at regular intervals such as feathers, teeth and insect ommatidia. The mouse tongue develops a regular papilla pattern and provides a good model to study pattern formation. We examined the expression patterns of the signalling molecules, sonic hedgehog (Shh), bone morphogenetic proteins -2 and -4 (Bmp-2 and Bmp-4), and fibroblast growth factor-8 (Fgf-8) in mouse embryos between E 10.5 and 15. We show that all four genes are expressed uniformly in the tongue epithelium between E 10.5 and 11. At E 13, before morphologically detectable gustatory papillae initiation, Shh, Bmp-2 and Bmp-4 expression segregates into discrete spots, whereas, Fgf-8 is downregulated. At E 14, small eminences in the anterior part of the tongue are the first morphological indications of fungiform papillae, and they express Shh and Bmp-2, whereas, Bmp-4 is almost absent in the tongue. We conclude that these conserved signalling molecules are associated with the initiation and early morphogenesis of the tongue papillae.