Domains of differential homeotic gene activity are formed at specific positions along the anteroposterior axis of the early Drosophila embryo. Homeotic genes are required continuously throughout development, so that homeotic gene activity has to be maintained independently of the positional information provided in the early embryo. In the ectoderm, the domains of homeotic gene activity partially overlap, but we have found that in the visceral mesoderm at least three of these genes are expressed in adjacent and mutually exclusive domains. It has been proposed that stable, sharply demarcated domains of this type could be established if a homeotic gene product stimulated its own expression locally and inhibited the expression of other homeotic genes, which Meinhardt has termed autocatalysis and mutual exclusion respectively. Furthermore, autocatalysis of this kind can in principle account for the maintenance of homeotic gene activity throughout development. We find that the unique domain of Ultrabithorax (Ubx) expression in the visceral mesoderm is dependent both on autocatalysis and on an exclusion mechanism: Ubx product is required for its own synthesis, whereas the product of the posteriorly adjacent gene abdominal-A represses Ubx expression.