The development of most epidermal sensory organs in Drosophila is controlled by achaete and scute, two of the genes of the achaete-scute complex (AS-C). The genes of the AS-C encode members of the basic-helix-loop-helix (bHLH) class of transcriptional regulators, and their activity defines proneural cell clusters in the imaginal discs from which sensory organ mother cells are singled out by a process of lateral inhibition. Ectopic expression of lethal of scute, another member of the AS-C, normally dispensable for sensory organ development in the adult, promotes this process independently of the activity of the other AS-C genes. This demonstrates a high degree of functional redundancy of the products of the AS-C. Furthermore, neurogenic genes are activated in ectopic proneural clusters, allowing development of epidermal progenitor cells. Finally, the bHLH domain is necessary and sufficient to mediate the proneural function, to activate neurogenic genes, and to allow lateral inhibition.