Neural crest, taken from cephalic and trunk levels of quail embryos, was grown in vitro in conventional tissue culture medium (Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium containing 15% fetal calf serum and either 2 or 15% chick embryo extract (CEE] or in a chemically defined serum- and CEE-free medium. Depending on the conditions employed, different types of neuronal or neuronlike cells developed in the cultures. Thus, in medium containing 15% CEE, adrenergic cells (identified by tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactivity and catecholamine histofluorescence) emerged after 5-6 days. These cells lacked tetanus toxin binding sites and did not react with an antibody directed against 70-kDa neurofilament protein. In the fully defined medium, a neuronal cell type exhibiting neurofilament and substance P (SP) immunoreactivity differentiated from noncycling precursors within 1 or 2 days of culture. If serum was added to the medium, the neurites disintegrated and the neuronal cells ultimately died. By sequentially culturing neural crest, first in the wholly synthetic medium for 1-3 days and then in the conventional medium supplemented with serum and 15% CEE, the disappearance of the SP-positive neurons was followed, several days later, by the emergence of adrenergic cells. The majority of these cells and/or their precursors were found to undergo cell division in culture. We conclude that the cells expressing the adrenergic phenotype (characteristic of the sympathetic nervous system) and those displaying SP immunoreactivity, comparable to a category of neurons in dorsal root and cranial sensory ganglia, derive from distinct sets of precursors. Our results reinforce the contention, deduced from in ovo transplantation experiments (see N. M. Le Douarin, (1984) In Cellular and Molecular Biology of Neuronal Development (I. Black, Ed.), pp. 3-28. Plenum, New York), that at least two lineages, from which sensory and autonomic cell types are derived respectively, are segregated early during neural crest ontogeny and have extremely different survival and trophic requirements.