Here, I review the developmental expression features of genes encoding the retinoic acid receptors (RARs) and the 'retinoid X' or rexinoid receptors (RXRs). The first detailed expression studies were performed in the mouse over two decades ago, following the cloning of the murine Rar genes. These studies revealed complex expression features at all stages of post-implantation development, one receptor gene (Rara) showing widespread expression, the two others (Rarb and Rarg) with highly regionalized and/or cell type-specific expression in both neural and non-neural tissues. Rxr genes also have either widespread (Rxra, Rxrb), or highly-restricted (Rxrg) expression patterns. Studies performed in zebrafish and Xenopus demonstrated expression of Rar and Rxr genes (both maternal and zygotic), at early pre-gastrulation stages. The eventual characterization of specific enzymes involved in the synthesis of retinoic acid (retinol/retinaldehyde dehydrogenases), or the triggering of its catabolism (CYP26 cytochrome P450s), all of them showing differential expression patterns, led to a clearer understanding of the phenomenons regulated by retinoic acid signaling during development. Functional studies involving targeted gene disruptions in the mouse, and additional approaches such as dominant negative receptor expression in other models, have pinpointed the specific, versus partly redundant, roles of the RARs and RXRs in many developing organ systems. These pleiotropic roles are summarized hereafter in relationship to the receptors’ expression patterns.