We have identified a novel subfamily of mammalian hairy/Enhancer of split (E(spl))-related basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) genes together with a putative Drosophila homologue. While hairy/E(spl) proteins are characterized by an invariant proline residue in the basic domain and a carboxyterminal groucho-binding WRPW motif, our genes encode a carboxyterminal KPYRPWG sequence and were thus designated as Hey genes (Hairy/E(spl)-related with YRPW motif). Furthermore, they bear a unique C-terminal TE(I/V)GAF motif and the characteristic proline is changed in all Hey family members to glycine. RNA in situ hybridization analysis revealed specific expression of Hey1 during development of the nervous system, the somites, the heart and the craniofacial region. Hey2 is similarly expressed in the somites whereas it shows a complementary expression in the heart, the craniofacial region and the nervous system. The diversity of expression patterns implies unique functions in neurogenesis, somitogenesis and organogenesis.