A dye-injection technique has been used to determine the developmental stage at which posterior neuropore (PNP) closure occurs in normal and mutant curly tail mouse embryos. In vivo, the majority of non-mutant embryos undergo PNP closure between 30 and 34 somites whereas approximately 50% of all mutant embryos show delayed closure, and around 20% maintain an open PNP even at advanced stages of development. A similar result has been found for embryos developing in vitro from the headfold stage. Later in development, 50--60% of mutant embryos in vivo develop tail flexion defects, and 15--20% lumbosacral myeloschisis. This supports the view that delayed PNP closure is the main developmental lesion leading to the appearance of caudal neural tube defects in curly tail mice. The neural tube is closed in the region of tail flexion defects, but it is locally over-expanded and abnormal in position. The significance of these observations is discussed in relation to possible mechanisms of development of lumbosacral and caudal neural tube defects. This paper constitutes the first demonstration of the development of a genetically induced malformation in vitro.