Murine Hox genes have been postulated to play a role in patterning of the embryonic body plan. Gene disruption studies have suggested that for a given Hox complex, patterning of cell identity along the antero-posterior axis is directed by the more 'posterior' (having a more posterior rostral boundary of expression) Hox proteins expressed in a given cell. This supports the 'posterior prevalence' model, which also predicts that ectopic expression of a given Hox gene would result in altered structure only in regions anterior to its normal domain of expression. To test this model further, we have expressed the Hox-4.2 gene more rostrally than its normal mesoderm anterior boundary of expression, which is at the level of the first cervical somites. This ectopic expression results in a homeotic transformation of the occipital bones towards a more posterior phenotype into structures that resemble cervical vertebrae, whereas it has no effect in regions that normally express Hox-4.2. These results are similar to the homeotic posteriorization phenomenon generated in Drosophila by ectopic expression of genes of the homeotic complex HOM-C (refs 7-10; reviewed in ref. 3).