The serendipity alpha (sry alpha) cellularisation gene is only transcribed at the blastoderm stage, when this morphogenetic event takes place. We show that a 95 bp sry alpha upstream region is sufficient for blastoderm-specific expression of a lacZ reporter gene. This region encompasses four nucleotide motifs (I-IV, 5' to 3') conserved at similar relative positions in several Drosophila species. Removal of motif I leads to ectopic expression of lacZ in precursor cells of the PNS. Deletion of motif IV decreases the level of lacZ transcripts and modifies their banded pattern of accumulation late in cycle 14, whereas deletion of motifs II and III abolishes the sry alpha promoter activity. Motif III includes a consensus recognition site for b-HLH proteins. A point mutation in this E-box both severely reduces lacZ expression at blastoderm and prevents its ectopic expression in the PNS upon deleting motif I. These two effects depend upon da+ activity, suggesting that daughterless may positively control sry alpha transcription.