The notochord and floor plate contribute to patterning the ventral neural tube in part by expressing a diffusible factor that induces motoneurons. To determine the mechanisms that direct the development of other classes of ventral neurons, we studied the development of dopaminergic neurons that reside near motoneurons in the ventral midbrain. We provide evidence that dopaminergic neurons develop in the vicinity of the floor plate and that they can be specified by the floor plate in vitro and in vivo. Unlike motoneurons, efficient induction of dopaminergic neurons requires contact with floor plate cells. These results suggest that neuronal diversification along the dorsal-ventral axis may be achieved partly through the concerted action of diffusible and contact-dependent signals from a single organizing center, the floor plate.