Initiation of Hox genes requires interactions between numerous factors and signaling pathways in order to establish their precise domain boundaries in the developing nervous system. There are distinct differences in the expression and regulation of members of Hox genes within a complex suggesting that multiple competing mechanisms are used to initiate their expression domains in early embryogenesis. In this study, by analyzing the response of HoxB genes to both RA and FGF signaling in neural tissue during early chick embryogenesis (HH stages 7-15), we have defined two distinct groups of Hox genes based on their reciprocal sensitivity to RA or FGF during this developmental period. We found that the expression domain of 5' members from the HoxB complex (Hoxb6-Hoxb9) can be expanded anteriorly in the chick neural tube up to the level of the otic vesicle following FGF treatment and that these same genes are refractory to RA treatment at these stages. Furthermore, we showed that the chick caudal-related genes, cdxA and cdxB, are also responsive to FGF signaling in neural tissue and that their anterior expansion is also limited to the level of the otic vesicle. Using a dominant negative form of a Xenopus Cdx gene (XcadEnR) we found that the effect of FGF treatment on 5' HoxB genes is mediated in part through the activation and function of CDX activity. Conversely, the 3' HoxB genes (Hoxb1 and Hoxb3-Hoxb5) are sensitive to RA but not FGF treatments at these stages. We demonstrated by in ovo electroporation of a dominant negative retinoid receptor construct (dnRAR) that retinoid signaling is required to initiate expression. Elevating CDX activity by ectopic expression of an activated form of a Xenopus Cdx gene (XcadVP16) in the hindbrain ectopically activates and anteriorly expands Hoxb4 expression. In a similar manner, when ectopic expression of XcadVP16 is combined with FGF treatment, we found that Hoxb9 expression expands anteriorly into the hindbrain region. Our findings suggest a model whereby, over the window of early development we examined, all HoxB genes are actually competent to interpret an FGF signal via a CDX-dependent pathway. However, mechanisms that axially restrict the Cdx domains of expression, serve to prevent 3' genes from responding to FGF signaling in the hindbrain. FGF may have a dual role in both modulating the accessibility of the HoxB complex along the axis and in activating the expression of Cdx genes. The position of the shift in RA or FGF responsiveness of Hox genes may be time dependent. Hence, the specific Hox genes in each of these complementary groups may vary in later stages of development or other tissues. These results highlight the key role of Cdx genes in integrating the input of multiple signaling pathways, such as FGFs and RA, in controlling initiation of Hox expression during development and the importance of understanding regulatory events/mechanisms that modulate Cdx expression.