Both maternally supplied products and zygotically acting segmentation genes are required to establish the segment pattern of the Drosophila embryo. These genes are thought to act in part by regulating the expression of the homeotic genes. Products of the maternal and zygotic gap genes are present in the egg prior to blastoderm formation, when the homeotic genes are initially expressed within precisely bounded domains. In order to assess the first regulatory interactions between some of these gap gene products and the homeotic genes, we have examined the spatial distribution of transcripts arising from the homeotic Antp and Ubx genes during early embryogenesis in various mutant backgrounds. Here we show that mutations in both maternally and zygotically acting gap genes differentially affect the initial spatial domains of transcripts arising from each of these homeotic gene promoters. Later in embryogenesis, the patterns of homeotic gene expression change in both the wild-type and mutant cases, suggesting that other regulatory activities come into play. We propose a model in which the initial activation of each homeotic gene promoter depends on a unique combination of gap and pair-rule gene activities.