The relationship between timing of closure of the posterior neuropore (PNP) and development of spinal neural tube defects (NTD) has been studied in individual mutant curly tail mouse embryos maintained in culture. Moderate delay in PNP closure results in development of tail flexion defects whereas extreme delay of PNP closure is associated with development of open NTD. Experimental enlargement of the PNP at the stage of 25 to 29 somites leads to delayed PNP closure and development of tail flexion defects in 36% and 38% respectively of non-mutant A/Strong embryos. In curly tail embryos, the effect of experimental enlargement of the PNP summates with the genetic predisposition to produce an increased incidence of spinal NTD among which open defects are proportionately more common. These results indicate that a causal relationship exists between delay in PNP closure and development of spinal NTD in mouse embryos. The method described for distinguishing between prospective normal and abnormal curly tail embryos at a stage prior to the appearance of malformations provides an opportunity to study the morphogenetic processes that precede the development of genetically determined spinal NTD.