We have used hypomorphic and null tailless (tll) alleles to carry out a detailed analysis of the effects of the lack of tll gene activity on anterior and posterior regions of the embryo. The arrangement of tll alleles into a continuous series clarifies the relationship between the anterior and posterior functions of the tll gene and indicates that there is a graded sensitivity of anterior and posterior structures to a decrease in tll gene activity. With the deletion of both anterior and posterior pattern domains in tll null embryos, there is a poleward expansion of the remaining pattern. Using anti-horseradish peroxidase staining, we show that the formation of the embryonic brain requires tll. A phenotypic and genetic study of other pattern mutants places the tll gene within the hierarchy of maternal and zygotic genes required for the formation of the normal body pattern. Analysis of mutants doubly deficient in tll and maternal terminal genes is consistent with the idea that these genes act together in a common pathway to establish the domains at opposite ends of the embryo. We propose that tll establishes anterior and posterior subdomains (acron and tail regions, respectively) within the larger pattern regions affected by the maternal terminal genes.