Homeotic genes determine the developmental fates of cells. Restriction of their expression along the body axis is of prime importance for normal development. We searched for cis-regulatory sequences within Abdominal-B (Abd-B), a homeotic Drosophila gene, by testing genomic Abd-B fragments for their ability to confer beta-galactosidase (beta-gal) expression in transformed embryos. One of the Abd-B fragments, called IAB5, mediates a beta-gal pattern restricted along the body axis to the Abd-B expression domain. Alterations of the IAB5 pattern in gap mutants provide evidence that the protein products of the gap genes hunchback, Krüppel and knirps act as repressors through IAB5. The anterior Abd-B expression limit is apparently determined by Krüppel repression, whereas the knirps repressor may be responsible for the graded Abd-B expression within the Abd-B domain. IAB5 and two other fragments called MCP and FAB show region-specific silencing activity: they suppress at a distance beta-gal expression mediated by a linked heterologous enhancer. Silencing requires hunchback as well as Polycomb function and evidently provides maintenance of Abd-B expression limits throughout embryogenesis. We conclude that transcriptional repression is a key mechanism operating at multiple levels to control Abd-B expression. The striking similarities between the control of Abd-B and of Ultrabithorax, another homeotic Drosophila gene, may point to a universal principle underlying homeotic gene regulation.