roundabout (robo) family genes play key roles in axon guidance in a wide variety of animals. We have investigated the roles of the robo family members, robo, robo2, and robo3, in the guidance of sensory axons in the Drosophila embryo. In robo(-/-), slit(-/-), and robo(-/+) slit(-/+) mutants, lateral cluster sensory neurons misproject to cells and axons in the nearby ventral' (v') cluster. These phenotypes, together with the normal expression pattern of Slit and Robo, suggest that Slit ligand secreted from the epidermis interacts with Robo receptors on lateral cluster sensory growth cones to limit their exploration of nearby attractive substrates. The most common sensory axon phenotype seen in robo2(-/-) mutants was misprojection of dorsal cluster sensory axons away from their normal growth substrate, the transverse connective of the trachea. slit appears to play no role in this aspect of sensory axon growth. Robo2 is expressed, not on the dorsal sensory axons, but on the transverse connective. These results suggest a novel, non-cell-autonomous mechanism for axon guidance by robo family genes: Robo2 expressed on the trachea acts as an attractant for the dorsal sensory growth cones.