The dorsoventral axis of the Drosophila embryo is determined by a morphogen gradient established by the action of 12 maternal-effect genes: the dorsal group genes and cactus. One of the dorsal group genes, dorsal (dl), encodes the putative morphogen. Although no overall asymmetry in the distribution of dorsal protein is observed, a gradient of nuclear concentration of dl protein is established during cleavage stages, with a maximum at the ventral side of the egg. At the dorsal side of the egg, the protein remains in the cytoplasm. Nuclear localization of the dl protein, and hence gradient formation, is blocked in dorsalizing alleles of all of the other dorsal group genes, while in ventralizing mutants nuclear localization extends to the dorsal side of the egg. A correlation between dl protein distribution and embryonic pattern in mutant embryos indicates that the nuclear concentration of the dl protein determines pattern along the dorsoventral axis.