Members of the collapsin/semaphorin gene family have been proposed to act as growth cone guidance signals in vertebrates and invertebrates. To identify candidate molecules involved in axonal pathfinding during mouse embryogenesis, we isolated cDNAs encoding five new members of the semaphorin family (Sem A-Sem E). The murine semaphorin genes are differentially expressed in mesoderm and neuroectoderm before and during the time when axons select their pathways in the embryo. In explant cultures, recombinant Sem D/collapsin converts a matrix permissive for axonal growth into one that is inhibitory for neurites of peripheral ganglia. Our data demonstrate that semaphorins are a diverse family of molecules that may provide local signals to specify territories nonaccessible for growing axons.