The developing hindbrain is organized into a series of segments termed rhombomeres which represent lineage restricted compartments correlating with domains of gene expression and neuronal differentiation. In this study, we investigate the processes of hindbrain segmentation and the acquisition of segmental identity by analyzing the expression of zebrafish hox genes in the hindbrains of normal fish and fish with a loss-of-function mutation in the segmentation gene valentino (val, the homologue of mouse kreisler; Moens, C. B., Cordes, S. P. Giorgianni, M. W., Barsh, G. S. and Kimmel, C. B. (1998). Development 125, 381-391). We find that zebrafish hox genes generally have similar expression profiles to their murine and avian counterparts, although there are several differences in timing and spatial extent of expression which may underlie some of the functional changes that have occurred along the separate evolutionary lineages of teleosts and tetrapods. Our analysis of hox gene expression in val- embryos confirms that the val gene product is important for subdivision of the presumptive rhombomere 5 and 6 territory into definitive rhombomeres, suggests that the val gene product plays a critical role in regulating hox gene transcription, and indicates that some neural crest cells are inappropriately specified in val- embryos. Our analysis of gene expression at several developmental stages has allowed us to infer differences between primary and secondary defects in the val mutant: we find that extended domains of expression for some hox genes are secondary, late phenomena potentially resulting from inappropriate cell mixing or lack of normal inter-rhombomeric interactions in the caudal hindbrain.