Expression of a mouse atonal homologue, math1, defines cells with the potential to become sensory hair cells in the mouse inner ear (Science 284 (1999) 1837) and Notch signaling limits the number of cells that are permitted to adopt this fate (Nat. Genet. 21 (1999) 289; J. Neurocytol. 28 (1999) 809). Failure of lateral inhibition mediated by Notch signaling is associated with an overproduction of ear hair cells in the zebrafish mind bomb (mib) and deltaA mutants (Development 125 (1998a) 4637; Development 126 (1999) 5669), suggesting a similar role for these genes in limiting the number of hair cells in the zebrafish ear. This study extends the analysis of proneural and neurogenic gene expression to the lateral line system, which detects movement via clusters of related sensory hair cells in specialized structures called neuromasts. We have compared the expression of a zebrafish atonal homologue, zath1, and neurogenic genes, deltaA, deltaB and notch3, in neuromasts and the posterior lateral line primordium (PLLP) of wild-type and mib mutant embryos. We describe progressive restriction of proneural and neurogenic gene expression in the migrating PLLP that appears to correlate with selection of hair cell fate in maturing neuromasts. In mib mutants there is a failure to restrict expression of zath1 and Delta homologues in the neuromasts revealing similarities with the phenotype previously described in the ear.