Homoeotic genes in Drosophila melanogaster are active in spatially restricted metameric domains and control the morphogenesis of segment-specific features such as legs or wings within these domains. They exert their function, according to the 'selector gene' hypothesis, by regulating the expression of subordinate genes. Homoeotic genes also control their own expression and the expression of each other. The proteins encoded by these genes contain a domain, called a homoeodomain, that is strongly conserved, and that shows homologies to proteins that bind DNA and regulate transcription. Homoeoproteins have been shown to bind specific DNA sequences. We show here that the Drosophila homoeotic genes Ultrabithorax (Ubx) and Abdominal-B (Abd-B) code for proteins that are capable of activating transcription of reporter genes linked to specific cis-regulatory target sequences in transfected mammalian cells. Their activity, as well as their target specificity, is similar to that of a mammalian lymphoid-specific octamer transcription factor, OTF-2, which was recently found to contain a homoeodomain.