To investigate pattern formation in the vertebrate hindbrain, we isolated a full length hoxb2 cDNA clone from zebrafish. In a gene phylogeny, zebrafish hoxb2 clusters with human HOXB2, and it maps on linkage group 3 along with several other loci whose orthologues are syntenic with human HOXB2. In the hindbrain, hoxb2 is expressed at high levels in rhombomere 3 (r3), lower levels in r4, still lower in r5, and at undetectable levels in r6. In r7, r8, and the rostral spinal cord, hoxb2 is expressed at a lower level than in r5. Lateral cells appearing to emanate from r4 express both hoxb2 and dlx2, suggesting that they are neural crest. Overexpression of hoxb2 by mRNA injections into early cleavage stage embryos resulted in abnormal morphogenesis of the midbrain and rostral hindbrain, abnormal patterning in r4, fusion of cartilage elements arising from pharyngeal arches 1 and 2, and ectopic expression of krx20 and valentino (but not pax2, rtk1, or hoxb1) in the rostral hindbrain, midbrain, and, surprisingly, the eye. Treatments with retinoic acid produced a phenotype similar to that of ectopic hoxb2 expression, including ectopic krx20 (but not valentino) expression in the eye, and fusion of cartilages from pharyngeal arches 1 and 2. The results suggest that hoxb2 plays an important role in the patterning of hindbrain and pharyngeal arches in the zebrafish.