In the Drosophila embryo, cell fate along the anterior-posterior axis is determined by maternally expressed genes. The activity of the bicoid (bcd) gene is required for the development of larval head and thoracic structures, and that of maternal torso (tor) for the development of the unsegmented region of the head (acron). In contrast to the case of thoracic and abdominal segmentation, the hierarchy of zygotically expressed genes controlling head development has not been clearly defined. The bcd protein, which is expressed in a gradient, activates zygotic expression of the gap gene hunchback (hb), but hb alone is not sufficient to specify head development. Driever et al. proposed that at least one other bcd-activated gene controls the development of head regions anterior to the hb domain. We report here that the homeobox gene orthodenticle (otd), which is involved in head development, could be such a gene. We also show that otd expression responds to the activity of the maternal tor gene at the anterior pole of the embryo.