Axon outgrowth between the spinal cord and the hindlimb of the chick embryo is constrained by three tissues that border axon pathways. Growth cones turn to avoid the posterior sclerotome, perinotochordal mesenchyme, and pelvic girdle precursor during normal development and after experimental manipulation. We wanted to know if these functionally similar barriers to axon advance also share a common molecular composition. Since the posterior sclerotome differentially binds peanut agglutinin (PNA) and since PNA binding is also typical of prechondrogenic differentiation, we examined the pattern of expression of PNA binding sites and cartilage proteoglycan epitopes in relation to axon outgrowth. We found that all three barrier tissues preferentially express both PNA binding sites and chondroitin-6-sulfate (C-6-S) immunoreactivity at the time when growth cones avoid these tissues. Moreover, both epitopes are expressed in the roof plate of the spinal cord and in the early limb bud, two additional putative barriers to axon advance. In contrast, neither epitope is detected in peripheral axon pathways. In the somites, this dichotomous pattern of expression clearly preceded the invasion of the anterior sclerotome by either motor growth cones or neural crest cells. However, in the limb, barrier markers disappeared from presumptive axon pathways in concert with the invasion of axons. Since this coordinate pattern suggested that the absence of barrier markers in these axon pathways requires an interaction with growth cones, we analyzed the pattern of barrier marker expression following unilateral neural tube deletions. We found that PNA-negative axon pathways developed normally even in the virtual absence of axon outgrowth. We conclude that the absence of staining with carbohydrate-specific barrier markers is an independent characteristic of the cells that comprise axon pathways. These results identify two molecular markers that characterize known functional barriers to axon advance and suggest that barrier tissues may impose patterns on peripheral nerve outgrowth by virtue of their distinct molecular composition.