We have studied the genetic requirement for the normal expression of the terminal gap genes huckebein (hkb) and tailless (tll) and their possible function in the posterior pole region of the Drosophila embryo. At the early blastoderm stage, both genes are expressed in largely coextensive expression domains. Our results show that in the posterior region of the embryo both the activation and the control of the spatial limits of tll and hkb expression are critically dependent on torso (tor) activity, which is thought to be a crucial component of a cellular signal transduction pathway provided by the terminal maternal system. Furthermore, the spatial control of hkb and tll expression does not require mutual interactions among each other, nor does it require regulatory input from other gap genes which are essential for the establishment of segmentation in the trunk region of the embryo ("central gap genes"). Therefore, the terminal gap genes have unique regulatory features which are distinct from the central gap genes. In the absence of terminal gap gene activities, as in hkb and tll mutant embryos, the expression domains of the central gap genes expand posteriorly, indicating that the terminal gap gene activities prevent central gap gene expression in the posterior pole region of the wildtype embryo. This, in turn, suggests that the terminal gap gene activities prevent metamerization by repression of central gap genes, thereby distinguishing the segmented trunk from the nonsegmented tail region of the embryo.