The mechanosensory bristles of adult Drosophila are composed of four cells that, in most cases, are progeny of a single sensory organ precursor (SOP) cell. Two sister cells in this lineage, the trichogen and tormogen, produce the external shaft and socket of the bristle, respectively. Loss-of-function mutations of Hairless (H) confer two distinct mutant phenotypes on adult bristles. The bristle loss phenotype results from the failure to specify and/or execute the SOP cell fate; the double socket phenotype results from the transformation of the trichogen (shaft) cell into a second tormogen (socket) cell. We have found that the H gene encodes a novel basic protein with a predicted molecular mass of 109 kD. Basal levels of expression of a transgene (P[Hs-H]) in which the H protein-coding region is under the control of the Hsp70 promoter are sufficient to provide full rescue of H mutant phenotypes. Heat shock treatment of P[Hs-H] transgenic animals as late larvae and early pupae produces a tormogen-to-trichogen (double shaft) cell fate transformation, as well as bristle multiplication and loss phenotypes very similar to those caused by loss-of-function mutations in the neurogenic gene Notch. Our results indicate that the SOP cell fate requires H to antagonize the activity of the neurogenic group of genes and that the expression of distinct cell fates by the trichogen/tormogen sister cell pair depends on an asymmetry in their levels of H+ activity or in their thresholds for response to H.