The Dlx gene family encodes homeodomain proteins that are required for forebrain and craniofacial development. Towards elucidating the roles for each of these genes, we have isolated cDNA clones encoding the full-coding sequence for murine Dlx-5 and partial coding sequence for murine Dlx-6. Three different classes of sense Dlx-5 cDNA clones were characterized, two of which lack the homeobox. We also identified an antisense Dlx-6 transcript. Genomic analysis shows that the Dlx-5 and -6 genes are linked. Biochemical analysis using gel shift assays demonstrate that DLX-1, -2 and -5 have very similar DNA-binding properties. The expression of Dlx-1, -2, -5, -6 and antisense Dlx-1 and -6 was studied in the midgestation mouse brain. We found that the Dlx genes are expressed in overlapping patterns at different stages of differentiation within the primordia of the basal ganglia. Dlx-1 and -2 are expressed in the least mature cells (in the ventricular and subventricular zones). Dlx-5 appears to be co-expressed with Dlx-1 and -2 in the SVZ, but is also expressed in the postmitotic cells of the mantle. Dlx-6 expression is strongest in the mantle. Antisense Dlx-1 and -6 have their highest expression in the SVZ. These results suggest that each of these Dlx genes may have a distinct role in different steps of differentiation in the basal ganglia.