Hox genes play a critical role in the development of the vertebrate axis and limbs, and previous studies have implicated them in the specification of positional identity, the control of growth, and the timing of differentiation. Axolotl limbs offer an opportunity to distinguish these alternatives because the sequence of skeletal differentiation is reversed along the anterior-posterior axis relative to that of other tetrapods. We report that during early limb development, expression patterns of HoxD genes in axolotls resemble those in amniotes and anuran amphibians. At later stages, the anterior boundary of Hoxd-11 expression is conserved with respect to morphological landmarks, but there is no anterior-distal expansion of the posterior domain of Hoxd-11 expression similar to that observed in mice and chicks. Since axolotls do not form an expanded paddle-like handplate prior to digit differentiation, we suggest that anterior expansion of expression in higher vertebrates is linked to the formation of the handplate, but is clearly not necessary for digit differentiation. We also show that the 5' HoxD genes are reexpressed during limb regeneration. The change in the expression pattern of Hoxd-11 during the course of regeneration is consistent with the hypothesis that the distal tip of the regenerate is specified first, followed by intercalation of intermediate levels of the pattern. Both Hoxd-8 and Hoxd-10 are expressed in non-regenerating wounds, but Hoxd-11 is specific for regeneration. It is also expressed in the posterior half of nerve-induced supernumerary outgrowths.