A polyclonal antibody, alpha Hox 2.1a, was used to localize Hox 2.1 protein in presumptive neural crest cells and nodose ganglion of 8.5-10.0 day p.c. mouse embryos. The following results were obtained: (1) The nodose placode, in its epithelial state, first expresses Hox 2.1 protein at 9.0 d.p.c. By 9.5 d.p.c. presumptive migrating neuroblasts between the nodose placode and ganglion primordium also express Hox 2.1 protein. (2) At 9.5 d.p.c., presumptive crest cells lateral to the cephalic cardinal vein and within pharyngeal arches 4 and 6 are immunoreactive for alpha Hox 2.1a. In the arch 6 region, positive cells extend medially to a mesenchymal cell population on the lateral aspect of the foregut wall. (3) At 10.0 d.p.c., Hox 2.1 protein expression in putative crest cells is restricted to the arch 6 cell population. A similar staining pattern is seen using alpha Hox 2.1a with chick embryos. Comparison with the chicken embryo suggests that the Hox 2.1 positive cells in the pharyngeal arch and those on the lateral aspect of the foregut in the mouse embryo correspond to the caudalmost subpopulation of the circumpharyngeal crest (Kuratani and Kirby: Am. J. Anat. 191:215-227, 1991; Anat. Rec. 234:263-280, 1992). These results are consistent with a role for Hox 2.1 in pattern formation in the caudalmost region of the vertebrate head.