Unlike the trunk segments, the anterior head segments of Drosophila are formed in the absence of pair-rule and HOX-cluster gene expression, by the activities of the gap-like genes orthodenticle (otd), empty spiracles (ems) and buttonhead (btd). The products of these genes are transcription factors, but only EMS has a HOX-like homeodomain. Indeed, ems can confer identity to trunk segments when other HOX-cluster gene activities are absent. In trunk segments of wild-type embryos, however, ems activity is prevented by phenotypic suppression, in which more posterior HOX-cluster genes inactivate the more anterior without affecting transcription or translation. ems is suppressed by all other Hox-cluster genes and so is placed at the bottom of their hierarchy. Here we show that misexpression of EMS in the head transforms segment identity in a btd-dependent manner, that misexpression of BTD in the trunk causes ems-dependent structures to develop, and that EMS and BTD interact in vitro. The data indicate that this interaction may allow ems to escape from the bottom of the HOX-cluster gene hierarchy and cause a dominant switch of homeotic prevalence in the anterior-posterior direction.