Mutations of the homeotic gene proboscipedia (pb) of Drosophila cause striking transformations of the adult mouthparts, to legs or antennae. We report here an analysis of the gene structure of pb. Coding sequences across a 34 kb interval yield, by alternative splicing, four identified mRNA forms which differ immediately upstream of the homeobox. As a consequence, the homeodomain is expected to reside in four different contexts in the predicted protein isoforms. Mammalian homologs of pb, human HOX-2H and murine Hox-2.8, were identified based on the similarities of their homeodomains (95% identity) and several other conserved motifs. Examination of a collection of pb mutant alleles with antisera directed against the N-terminal region, the center or the C-terminal region of the protein showed that, surprisingly, several partial loss-of-function pb alleles appear to generate partially functional proteins truncated at their C-termini. This suggests that a significant portion of the protein contributes quantitatively to pb function, but is partially dispensable. Finally, evolutionary considerations suggest that pb may be one of several ancient genes which preceded the process yielding the modern homeotic gene complexes.