The spatially patterned differentiation of hetero-cysts in the filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena requires a functional hetR gene. Transcriptional fusions to luxAB show that hetR is transcribed at a low level throughout the filament when Anabaena is grown with combined nitrogen, and that induction of the gene begins within 2 h following nitrogen deprivation. By 3.5 h, induction is localized to spaced foci. By 6h, there is an overall induction of at least threefold in whole cultures, reflecting at least a 20-fold increase within spatially separated cells. The induction requires the presence of a functional hetR gene, indicating that hetR is autoregulatory. Full induction of a heterocyst structural gene, hepA, also requires a functional hetR locus.