In situ hybridization analysis of mouse embryos shows the seven members of the Hox-2 complex to be differentially expressed in the central and peripheral nervous system and in mesodermal derivatives (somites and lung). Beginning at the 5' end of the cluster, each successive gene displays a more anterior boundary of expression in the central nervous system. A gene's position in the Hox-2 cluster therefore reflects its relative domain of expression along the anteroposterior axis of the embryo, a feature observed with Drosophila homeotic genes. Sequence comparisons of the Hox-2 cluster with other mouse and Drosophila homeobox genes have defined subgroups of related genes; in the mouse there are four clusters related by duplication and divergence. Alignment shows a clear relationship among genes in the mouse and Drosophila complexes, based on relative position, sequence identity, and domains of expression along the rostral-caudal axis. Our results argue that these complexes arose from a common ancestor, present before the divergence of lineages that gave rise to arthropods and vertebrates.