A row of mesectodermal cells separates the two lateral neurogenic regions in the Drosophila embryo and generates a discrete set of glia and neurons. Most CNS growth cones initially head straight toward the midline, suggesting that these midline cells play a key role in the formation of the axon commissures. We have used antibodies that stain the first axons, beta-galactosidase enhancer trap lines that selectively stain the different midline cells, and electron microscopic studies to elucidate the cells and interactions that mediate the normal formation of the two major commissures in each segment. This analysis has led to a model that proposes a series of sequential cell interactions controlling the development of the axon commissures. A genetic test of this model has utilized a number of mutations that, by either eliminating or altering the differentiation of various midline cells, perturb the development of the axon commissures in a predictable fashion.