Recent studies have shown that generation of different kinds of neurones is controlled by combinatorial actions of homeodomain (HD) proteins expressed in the neuronal progenitors. Pax6 is a HD protein that has previously been shown to be involved in the differentiation of the hindbrain somatic (SM) motoneurones and V1 interneurones in the hindbrain and/or spinal cord. To investigate in greater depth the role of Pax6 in generation of the ventral neurones, we first examined the expression patterns of HD protein genes and subtype-specific neuronal markers in the hindbrain of the Pax6 homozygous mutant rat. We found that Islet2 (SM neurone marker) and En1 (V1 interneurone marker) were transiently expressed in a small number of cells, indicating that Pax6 is not directly required for specification of these neurones. We also observed that domains of all other HD protein genes (Nkx2.2, Nkx6.1, Irx3, Dbx2 and Dbx1) were shifted and their boundaries became blurred. Thus, Pax6 is required for establishment of the progenitor domains of the ventral neurones. Next, we performed Pax6 overexpression experiments by electroporating rat embryos in whole embryo culture. Pax6 overexpression in the wild type decreased expression of Nkx2.2, but ectopically increased expression of Irx3, Dbx1 and Dbx2. Moreover, electroporation of Pax6 into the Pax6 mutant hindbrain rescued the development of Islet2-positive and En1-positive neurones. To know reasons for perturbed progenitor domain formation in Pax6 mutant, we examined expression patterns of Shh signalling molecules and states of cell death and cell proliferation. Shh was similarly expressed in the floor plate of the mutant hindbrain, while the expressions of Ptc1, Gli1 and Gli2 were altered only in the progenitor domains for the motoneurones. The position and number of TUNEL-positive cells were unchanged in the Pax6 mutant. Although the proportion of cells that were BrdU-positive slightly increased in the mutant, there was no relationship with specific progenitor domains. Taken together, we conclude that Pax6 regulates specification of the ventral neurone subtypes by establishing the correct progenitor domains.