During neural development in vertebrates, a spatially ordered array of neurons is generated in response to inductive signals derived from localized organizing centres. One organizing centre that has been proposed to have a role in the control of neural patterning is the roof plate. To define the contribution of signals derived from the roof plate to the specification of neuronal cell types in the dorsal neural tube, we devised a genetic strategy to ablate the roof plate selectively in mouse embryos. Embryos without a roof plate lack all the interneuron subtypes that are normally generated in the dorsal third of the neural tube. Using a genetically based lineage analysis and in vitro assays, we show that the loss of these neurons results from the elimination of non-autonomous signals provided by the roof plate. These results reveal that the roof plate is essential for specifying multiple classes of neurons in the mammalian central nervous system.