The cells that are normally fated to form notochord occupy a region at the rostral tip of the primitive streak at late gastrula/early neurula stages of avian and mammalian development. If these cells are surgically removed from avian embryos in culture, a notochord will nonetheless form in the majority of cases. The origin of this reconstituted notochord previously had not been investigated and was the objective of this study. Chick embryos at late gastrulal early neurula stages were cultured, and the rostral tip of the primitive streak including Hensen's node was removed and replaced with non-node cells from quail epiblast to ensure that the cells normally fated to be notochord would be absent and that healing of the blastoderm would occur. Embryos were allowed to develop for 24 hr, and the presence and origin (host or graft) of the notochord were assessed using antibodies against notochord or quail cells. Two notochords typically developed; both were almost exclusively of host origin. The primitive streak, and in some cases adjacent tissues, was removed from another group of embryos in an attempt to estimate the mediolateral position and extent of the cells required to form reconstituted notochord. Additional experimental embryos with and without grafts were transected at various rostrocaudal levels in an attempt to estimate the rostrocaudal extent of the cells required to form reconstituted notochord. Finally, various levels of the primitive streak either were placed in a neutral environment (the germ cell crescent) or were grafted in place of the node. Collective results from all experiments indicate that the areas lateral to the rostral portion of the primitive streak, estimated to have a rostrocaudal span of less than 500 microns and a mediolateral extent of less than 250 microns, are critical for formation of the reconstituted notochord. Fate mapping and histological examination of this region identify 4 possible precursor cell populations. Further studies are underway to determine which of the 4 possible precursor cell types forms or induces the reconstituted notochord, and which tissue interactions underlie this change in cell fate.