We have analyzed the contributions made by maternal and zygotic genes to the establishment of the expression patterns of four zygotic patterning genes: decapentaplegic (dpp), zerknüllt (zen), twist (twi), and snail (sna). All of these genes are initially expressed either dorsally or ventrally in the segmented region of the embryo, and at the poles. In the segmented region of the embryo, correct expression of these genes depends on cues from the maternal morphogen dorsal (dl). The dl gradient appears to be interpreted on three levels: dorsal cells express dpp and zen, but not twi and sna; lateral cells lack expression of all four genes; ventral cells express twi and sna, but not dpp and zen. dl appears to activate the expression of twi and sna and repress the expression of dpp and zen. Polar expression of dpp and zen requires the terminal system to override the repression by dl, while that of twi and sna requires the terminal system to augment activation by dl. The zygotic expression patterns established by the maternal genes appear to specify autonomous domains that carry out independent developmental programs, insofar as mutations in the genes that are expressed ventrally do not affect the initiation or ontogeny of the expression patterns of the genes that are expressed dorsally, and vice versa. However, interactions between the zygotic genes specific to a particular morphological domain appear to be important for further elaboration of the three levels specified by dl. Two of the genes, dpp and twi, are unaffected by mutations in any of the tested zygotic dorsal-ventral genes, suggesting that dpp and twi are the primary patterning genes for dorsal ectoderm and mesoderm, respectively.