We report that the many Eph-related receptor tyrosine kinases, and their numerous membrane-bound ligands, can each be grouped into only two major specificity subclasses. Receptors in a given subclass bind most members of a corresponding ligand subclass. The physiological relevance of these groupings is suggested by viewing the collective distributions of all members of a subclass. These composite distributions, in contrast with less informative patterns seen with individual members of the family, reveal that the developing embryo is subdivided into domains defined by reciprocal and apparently mutually exclusive expression of a receptor subclass and its corresponding ligands. Receptors seem to encounter their ligands only at the interface between these domains. This reciprocal compartmentalization implicates the Eph family in the formation of spatial boundaries that may help to organize the developing body plan.