Zygotic gene activation (ZGA) is the critical event that governs the transition from maternal to embryonic control of development. In the mouse, ZGA occurs during the 2-cell stage and appears to be regulated by the time following fertilization, i.e. a zygotic clock, rather than by progression through the first cell cycle. The onset of ZGA must depend on maternally inherited proteins, and post-translational modification of these maternally derived proteins is likely to play a role in ZGA. Consistent with this prediction is that protein phosphorylation catalyzed by the cAMP-dependent protein kinase is involved in ZGA and that protein synthesis is not required for ZGA. Recent results suggest that ZGA may occur earlier than previously thought, i.e. not during the 2-cell stage, but rather in G2 of the 1-cell embryo. Thus ZGA may comprise a period of minor gene activation in the 1-cell embryo that is followed by a period of major gene activation in the 2-cell embryo. Following ZGA, the expression of constitutively activated genes may require an enhancer.