Genetic and molecular analyses indicate that the Drosophila engrailed gene is required to distinguish posterior from anterior compartments in each segment of the developing animal. Here, the patterns of engrailed expression in the imaginal discs and ventral ganglion of Drosophila larvae are examined, using an antiserum against the engrailed protein and a novel image processing method to reduce non-specific background. As expected, engrailed expression generally is restricted to cells in the posterior compartment of the discs, and the patterns of expression allow refinements in the fate maps of the discs to be made. More significant is the finding that expression of the gene is highly variable in different regions of posterior compartments, suggesting that engrailed may do more than simply specify 'posteriorness'. In the ventral ganglion engrailed appears to be expressed by a subset of cells, primarily in the posterior regions of each segment. In wing discs from animals that are homozygous for the en1 mutation, the pattern of expression of the gene is altered, as opposed to being simply reduced uniformly in the posterior cells.