The Abdominal-B gene is unique among homeotic Drosophila genes as it encodes two proteins m and r which confer different functions. The m protein corresponds to an r protein with a large N-terminal extension; the two proteins contain the same homeodomain. We have used a transient co-transfection assay, based on HeLa cells, to analyse the intrinsic function of m and r protein in activating transcription. We find two strong transcriptional activation domains in the common part of the two proteins. The m-specific exon contains additional transcriptional activation potential. Despite this, the m protein is a weaker transcriptional activator than the r protein. Apparently, there are inhibitory sequences in the m-specific exon which, in the embryo, may have a role in masking r function in the intact m protein.