This review will address the role of fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signalling during vertebrate development, from its early functions in patterning the mesoderm and influencing cell behaviour during morphogenesis to its later roles in limb development and neural patterning in the brain. Beyond the scope of this review, FGFs continue to be important in adult homeostasis, for angiogenesis and for wound healing. There is also considerable interest in FGF regulation of stem cell properties in culture: FGF is a common component in the culture medium of human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. There is also evidence that FGF signalling enables the differentiation of mouse embryonic stem cells into a number of cell lineages (Kunath et al., 2007; Levenstein et al., 2006; Takahashi et al., 2007). Furthermore, given that the FGF signalling pathway has a fundamental role in cell behaviour and differentiation, it is perhaps not surprising that there is increasing evidence linking disregulation of this pathway to a wide range of pathologies, including skeletal dysplasias, neurodegenerative disease, metabolic disorders and cancer (Krejci et al., 2009; Turner and Grose, 2010).