The genes torso (tor) and torso-like (tsl) are two of the Drosophila maternal group genes implicated in a receptor tyrosine kinase signalling pathway that specifies terminal cell fate (reviewed in ref. 3). Loss-of-function mutations in these loci cause an identical phenotype in which pattern elements from the anterior (acron) and posterior (telson) ends have been deleted. We have cloned the tsl gene and demonstrate here that, in agreement with previous genetic data, it encodes a protein that is secreted and whose transcription is restricted to specialized categories of follicle cells localized at the poles of the egg chamber. At early blastoderm stage, tsl protein forms a symmetrical concentration gradient at the poles on the surface of the devitellinized embryo. Unrestricted expression of the tsl protein in tsl female mutants induces terminal pattern elements and suppresses the formation of abdomen in embryos. These results suggest that the tsl protein is the ligand that binds to the torso receptor.