The vertebrate Dlx gene family encode homeobox transcription factors that are related to the Drosophila Distal-less (Dll) gene and are crucial for development. Over the last ∼35 years detailed information has accrued about the redundant and unique expression and function of the six mammalian Dlx family genes. DLX proteins interact with general transcriptional regulators, and co-bind with other transcription factors to enhancer elements with highly specific activity in the developing forebrain. Integration of the genetic and biochemical data has yielded a foundation for a gene regulatory network governing the differentiation of forebrain GABAergic neurons. In this Primer, we describe the discovery of vertebrate Dlx genes and their crucial roles in embryonic development. We largely focus on the role of Dlx family genes in mammalian forebrain development revealed through studies in mice. Finally, we highlight questions that remain unanswered regarding vertebrate Dlx genes despite over 30 years of research.

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