Although there is good evidence that growing axons can be guided by specific cues during the development of the vertebrate peripheral nervous system, little is known about the cellular mechanisms involved. We describe here an example where axons make a clear choice between two neighbouring groups of cells. Zinc iodide-osmium tetroxide staining of chick embryos reveals that motor and sensory axons grow from the neural tube region through the anterior (rostral) half of each successive somite. 180 degrees antero-posterior rotation of a portion of the neural tube relative to the somites does not alter this relationship, showing that neural segmentation is not intrinsic to the neural tube. Furthermore, if the somitic mesoderm is rotated 180 degrees about an antero-posterior axis, before somite segmentation, axons grow through the posterior (original anterior) half of each somite. Some difference therefore exists between anterior and posterior cells of the somite, undisturbed by rotation, which determines the position of axon outgrowth. It is widespread among the various vertebrate classes.