Bidirectional transcription, leading to the expression of an antisense (AS) RNA partially complementary to the protein coding sense (S) RNA, is an emerging subject in mammals and has been associated with various processes such as RNA interference, imprinting and transcription inhibition. Homeobox genes do not escape this bidirectional transcription, raising the possibility that such AS transcription occurs during embryonic development and may be involved in the complexity of regulation of homeobox gene expression. According to the importance of the Msx1 homeobox gene function in craniofacial development, especially in tooth development, the expression and regulation of its recently identified AS transcripts were investigated in vivo in mouse from E9.5 embryo to newborn, and compared with the S transcript and the encoded protein expression pattern and regulation. The spatial and temporal expression patterns of S, AS transcripts and protein are consistent with a role of AS RNA in the regulation of Msx1 expression in timely controlled developmental sites. Epithelial-mesenchymal interactions were shown to control the spatial organization of S and also AS RNA expression during early patterning of incisors and molars in the odontogenic mesenchyme. To conclude, this study clearly identifies the Msx1 AS RNA involvement during tooth development and evidences a new degree of complexity in craniofacial developmental biology: the implication of endogenous AS RNAs. © The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.