The mechanism involved in the morphogenesis of skin appendages is a fundamental issue underlying the development and healing of skin. To identify molecules involved in the induction and growth of skin appendages, we studied the expression of two homeobox genes, Msx-1 and Msx-2, during embryonic chicken skin development. We found that i) both Msx-1 and Msx-2 are early markers of epithelial placodes for skin appendages; ii) both Msx-1 and Msx-2 are expressed in the growing feather bud epithelia but not in the interbud epithelia; iii) although mostly overlapping, there are differences between the expression of the two Msx genes, Msx-1 being expressed more toward the anterior whereas Msx-2 is expressed more toward the distal feather bud; iv) there is no body-position-specific expression pattern as was observed for members of the Hox A-D clusters; v) in the feather follicle, Msx-1 and 2 are expressed in the collar and barb ridge epithelia, both regions of continuous cell proliferation; vi) when feather-bud growth was inhibited by forskolin, an activator of adenylyl cyclase, the expression of both genes was reduced. These results showed that Msx genes are specifically expressed in epithelial domains destined to become skin appendages. Its function in skin-appendage morphogenesis may be twofold, first in making epithelial cells competent to become skin appendages and, second, in making epithelial cells maintain their potential for continuous growth.