Recognition molecules of the immunoglobulin superfamily have important roles in neuronal interactions during ontogeny, including migration, survival, axon guidance and synaptic targeting. Their downstream signal transduction events specify whether a cell changes its place of residence or projects axons and dendrites to targets in the brain, allowing the construction of a dynamic neural network. A wealth of recent discoveries shows that cell adhesion molecules interact with attractant and repellent guidance receptors to control growth cone and cell motility in a coordinate fashion. We focus on the best-studied subclasses, the neural cell adhesion molecule NCAM and the L1 family of adhesion molecules, which share important structural and functional features. We have chosen these paradigmatic molecules and their interactions with other recognition molecules as instructive for elucidating the mechanisms by which other recognition molecules may guide cell interactions during development or modify their function as a result of injury, learning and memory.