Cells in the neurogenic region of Drosophila embryos are initially bipotential; they can become either neuroblasts or epidermoblasts. Cell-cell interaction seems to play an important part in this developmental decision, which involves the function of a group of genes (the neurogenic genes). Loss-of-function mutations in any of the neurogenic genes result in nervous system hyperplasia and epidermal hypoplasia. Of the six known zygotic neurogenic genes, big brain (bib) is unique in several aspects. Most notably, all the other known neurogenic genes seem to fit into a cascade defined by genetic interactions, whereas bib does not show any detectable interaction with them. To understand how bib functions, we have now cloned the bib genomic and complementary DNAs. The predicted bib product shows significant sequence similarity to a family of transmembrane proteins, some of which form channels permeable to small molecules. Together with genetic studies, our results indicate that the bib product may mediate intercellular communication in a pathway separate from the one involving the products of the other neurogenic genes.