HOX genes are expressed in bovine and mouse oocytes and early embryos. Paul D et al. HOX proteins are transcription factors that play a major role in patterning the body axis of vertebrates from the gastrulation stage. While nothing has been reported so far about their roles at earlier stages, there is evidence that some HOX genes are expressed before gastrulation. The objective of this work was to study the pattern of expression of several HOX genes during oocyte maturation and early embryonic development up to the blastocyst stage. Using nested PCR, HOXD1, HOXA3, HOXD4, HOXB7, HOXB9, and HOXC9 transcripts were detected in bovine oocytes and early embryos at various frequencies depending on the stage of development. Quantitative PCR was performed on bovine oocytes and early embryos: relative expression of HOXD1, HOXA3, and HOXC9 decreased sharply after the 5-8 cell stage. HOXB9 relative expression increased between the oocyte and the morula stage. All transcripts seemed to be of maternal origin before the maternal to embryonic transition, as demonstrated by blocking transcription with a-amanitin. Reverse transcription was performed with either hexamers or oligo-dT, allowing for the determination that HOXC9 transcripts were slightly deadenylated during oocyte maturation; HOXD1, HOXA3, and HOXB9 transcripts were not, indicating that they could be translated. Hoxd1, Hoxa3, Hoxb9, and Hoxc9 expression was also detected in mouse oocytes and early embryos. A similar pattern of expression was found in the two species. In conclusion, mammalian HOX genes might be implicated in the control of oocyte maturation, the maternal-to-embryonic transition or the first steps of embryo differentiation. Mol. Reprod. Dev. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.