This study describes the structure and function of pox neuro (poxn), a gene previously isolated by virtue of a conserved domain, the paired box, which it shares with the segmentation genes paired and gooseberry. Its expression pattern has been analyzed, particularly during development of the PNS. We propose that poxn is a "neuroblast identity" gene acting in both the PNS and the CNS on the basis of the following evidence. Its expression is restricted to four neuronal precursors in each hemisegment: two neuronal stem cells (neuroblasts) in the CNS, and two sensory mother cells (SMCs) in the PNS. The SMCs that express poxn produce the poly-innervated external sense organs of the larva. In poxn- embryos, poly-innervated sense organs are transformed into mono-innervated. Conversely, ectopic expression of poxn in embryos transformed with a heat-inducible poxn gene can switch mono-innervated to poly-innervated sense organs. Expression of poxn in the wing disc is restricted to the SMCs of the poly-innervated sense organs, suggesting that poxn also determines the lineage of poly-innervated adult sense organs.