During vertebrate embryogenesis, the hindbrain is the site of a segmentation process which leads to the formation, along the anterior-posterior axis, of 7-8 metameres called rhombomeres. This phenomenon plays an essential role in early hindbrain regionalisation and in the specification of the pattern of developing structures in this region of the brain. Data accumulated during the last 10 years have also shown that rhombomeres are units of gene expression and of cell lineage. Hence, a number of regulatory genes are expressed according to segment-specific patterns in the hindbrain and have been implicated in the pattern formation process. In this review, we focus on the analysis of the function and regulation of these genes along the different steps of hindbrain segmentation, from segment delimitation to acquisition of positional identity. On this basis, we propose a model for the control of early hindbrain development.