Trunk neural crest cells migrate along two major pathways: a ventral pathway through the somites whose cells form neuronal derivatives and dorsolateral pathway underneath the ectoderm whose cells become pigmented. In avian embryos, the latest emigrating neural crest cells move only along the dorsolateral pathway. To test whether late emigrating neural crest cells are more restricted in developmental potential than early migrating cells, cultures were prepared from the neural tubes of embryos at various stages of neural crest cell migration. "Early" and "middle" aged neural crest cells differentiated into many derivatives including pigmented cells, neurofilament-immunoreactive cells, and adrenergic cells. In contrast, "late" neural crest cells differentiated into pigment cells and neurofilament-immunoreactive cells, but not into adrenergic cells even after 10-14 days. To further challenge the developmental potential of early and late emigrating neural crest cells, they were transplanted into embryos during the early phases of neural crest cell migration, known to be permissive for adrenergic neuronal differentiation. The cells were labeled with the vital dye, DiI, and injected onto the ventral pathway at stages 14-17. Two and three days after injection, some early neural crest cells were found to express catecholamines, suggesting they were adrenergic neuroblasts. In contrast, DiI-labeled late neural crest cells never became catecholamine-positive. These results suggest that the late emigrating neural crest cell population has a more restricted developmental potential than the early migrating neural crest cell population.