The achaete-scute gene complex (AS-C) of Drosophila melanogaster is involved in the development of the embryonic central nervous system and the cuticular sensory organs of both larva and adult. We have determined the embryonic spatial distributions of three transcripts encoded in the achaete, scute alpha and lethal of scute regions of the complex. The RNAs are present mainly between the blastoderm/early gastrula and the stage of germ band shortening. The patterns of expression are complex and evolve rapidly, affecting most or all of the known neurogenic regions. Gene expression precedes and is concomitant with the histological appearance of precursors of neural cells. These results support a role for the AS-C in determination and early differentiation of embryonic neural cells.