The tracheae defective (tdf) gene is required for the formation of the tracheal system during Drosophila embryogenesis. It encodes a putative bZIP transcription factor (TDF). Antibodies directed against TDF detect a nuclear protein in all tracheal cells before invagination and throughout tracheal system morphogenesis. Examination of tdf mutants revealed that tdf activity is not necessary for determining tracheal cell identity but for subsequent morphogenetic cell movements. tdf activity is under the control of trachealess, the key regulator gene for tracheal development. In contrast, tdf activity is not dependent on and does not interfere with the fibroblast growth factor- (FGF) and Decapentaplegic- (DPP) mediated signalling that direct guided tracheal cell migration. Our results suggest that lack of tdf activity affects tracheal cell migration in general rather than specific aspects of cell migration. tdf activity involves a maternal and zygotic component and its requirement is not limited to tracheal system formation. The complex spatiotemporal patterns of TDF expression in the embryo correspond to defects, suggesting that cell migration is impaired. We propose that the bZIP protein TDF functions as a co-regulator of target genes that provide cells with the ability to migrate.