The extra sex combs (esc) gene product is a transcriptional repressor of homeotic genes. Although it is classified in the Polycomb group (PcG) on the basis of phenotypic criteria, it is distinct from most other PcG repressors in its time of action during development. We describe the temporal profile of esc mRNA expression during embryogenesis and the stage-specific rescue of esc mutants with a heat shock-inducible esc cDNA transformation construct. Both experiments support the idea that esc product plays an early, transient role in repression of homeotic genes. We also present the sequence of a full-length esc cDNA. The predicted esc protein is composed primarily of multiple copies of a repeat motif, termed the WD40 repeat, which are likely used in protein-protein contact. We provide evidence that individual copies of the esc WD40 repeats are needed for function in vivo. We suggest that esc protein is an adaptor that binds to multiple protein partners and assists in the assembly or targeting of other PcG proteins.