mef2 encodes the only apparent Drosophila homolog of the vertebrate myocyte-specific enhancer factor 2 (MEF2). We show herein that the Drosophila MEF2 protein is expressed throughout the mesoderm following gastrulation. Later in embryogenesis, its expression is maintained in precursors and differentiated cells of the somatic and visceral musculature, as well as the heart. We have characterized genetic deficiencies and EMS-induced point mutations that result in complete loss of MEF2 protein in homozygous mutant embryos. These embryos exhibit a dramatic absence of myosin heavy chain (MHC)-expressing myoblasts and lack differentiated muscle fibers. Examination of earlier events of muscle development indicates that the specification and early differentiation of somatic muscle precursors are not affected because even-skipped-, nautilus-, and beta 3-tubulin-expressing myoblasts are present. However, these partially differentiated cells are unable to undergo further differentiation to form muscle fibers in the absence of mef2. The later aspects of differentiation of the visceral mesoderm and the heart are also disrupted in mef2 mutant embryos, although the specification and early development of these tissues appear unaffected. Midgut morphogenesis is disrupted in the mutant embryos, presumably as a consequence of abnormal development of the visceral mesoderm. In the heart, the cardial cells do not express MHC. These results indicate that MEF2 is required for later aspects of differentiation of the three major types of musculature, which include body wall muscles, gut musculature, and the heart, in the Drosophila embryo.