The identification of surface proteins restricted to subsets of embryonic axons and growth cones may provide information on the mechanisms underlying axon fasciculation and pathway selection in the vertebrate nervous system. We describe here the characterization of a 135 kd cell surface glycoprotein, TAG-1, that is expressed transiently on subsets of embryonic spinal cord axons and growth cones. TAG-1 is immunochemically distinct from the cell adhesion molecules N-CAM and L1 (NILE) and is expressed on commissural and motor neurons over the period of initial axon extension. Moreover, TAG-1 and L1 appear to be segregated on different segments of the same embryonic spinal axons. These observations provide evidence that axonal guidance and pathway selection in vertebrates may be regulated in part by the transient and selective expression of distinct surface glycoproteins on subsets of developing neurons.