Although numerous in vitro experiments suggest that extracellular matrix molecules like laminin can influence neural crest migration, little is known about their function in the embryo. Here, we show that laminin alpha5, a gene up-regulated during neural crest induction, is localized in regions of newly formed cranial and trunk neural folds and adjacent neural crest migratory pathways in a manner largely conserved between chick and mouse. In laminin alpha5 mutant mice, neural crest migratory streams appear expanded in width compared to wild type. Conversely, neural folds exposed to laminin alpha5 in vitro show a reduction by half in the number of migratory neural crest cells. During gangliogenesis, laminin alpha5 mutants exhibit defects in condensing cranial sensory and trunk sympathetic ganglia. However, ganglia apparently recover at later stages. These data suggest that the laminin alpha5 subunit functions as a cue that restricts neural crest cells, focusing their migratory pathways and condensation into ganglia. Thus, it is required for proper migration and timely differentiation of some neural crest populations.