All-trans-retinoic acid (RA) induces striking digit pattern duplications when locally applied to the developing chick limb bud. Instead of the normal digit pattern (234) a mirror-symmetrical 432234 pattern can be specified. Hence, RA closely mimics posterior limb bud tissue (the zone of polarizing activity, ZPA) that causes very similar duplications when grafted to an anterior site of a host limb bud. This resemblance raises an intriguing possibility: that RA is related to the as yet unidentified inducer substance thought to be released by the ZPA. Here we report that chick limb buds contain endogenous RA and we show that RA, but not its biosynthetic precursor retinol, forms a concentration gradient across the limb anlage with a high-point in the posterior domain of the limb bud, the part that also contains the ZPA.