The cloning, characterization and developmental expression patterns of two novel murine Hox genes, Hox-4.6 and Hox-4.7, are reported. Structural data allow us to classify the four Hox-4 genes located in the most upstream (5') position in the HOX-4 complex as members of a large family of homeogenes related to the Drosophila homeotic gene Abdominal B (AbdB). It therefore appears that these vertebrate genes are derived from a selective amplification of an ancestral gene which gave rise, during evolution, to the most posterior of the insect homeotic genes so far described. In agreement with the structural colinearity, these genes have very posteriorly restricted expression profiles. In addition, their developmental expression is temporally regulated according to a cranio-caudal sequence which parallels the physical ordering of these genes along the chromosome. We discuss the phylogenetic alternative in the evolution of genetic complexity by amplifying either genes or regulatory sequences, as exemplified by this system in the mouse and Drosophila. Furthermore, the possible role of 'temporal colinearity' in the ontogeny of all coelomic (metamerized) metazoans showing a temporal anteroposterior morphogenetic progression is addressed.