The Notch locus in Drosophila encodes a transmembrane protein required for the determination of cell fate in ectodermal cells. When these cells are faced with a choice of two possible fates, Notch enables some of them to advance from the fate that represents a "default" state. The decision appears to involve both an interaction between cells and the presence of the Notch product on the surface of those advancing from the default state. The timing of gene action suggests that Notch plays a role in the stabilization of the choice of cell fate and that the Notch-mediated interaction occurs between presumptive epidermal cells. Several properties of the Notch product are characteristic of an adhesion molecule, and thus cell adhesion may play a role in the determination of cell fate.