Formation and extension of the notochord is one of the earliest and most obvious events of axis development in vertebrate embryos. In birds, prospective notochord cells arise from Hensen's node and come to lie beneath the midline of the neural plate, where they assist in the process of neurulation and initiate the dorsoventral patterning of the neural tube through sequential inductive interactions. In the present study, we examined notochord development in avian embryos with quantitative and immunological procedures. Extension of the notochord occurs principally through accretion, that is, the addition of cells to its caudal end, a process that involves considerable cell rearrangement at the notochord-Hensen's node interface. In addition, cell division and cell rearrangement within the notochord proper contribute to notochord extension. Thus, extension of the notochord occurs in a manner that is significantly different from that of the adjacent, overlying, midline region of the neural plate (i.e., the median hinge-point region or future floor plate of the neural tube), which as shown in one of the previous studies from our laboratory (Schoenwolf and Alvarez: Development 106:427-439, 1989), extends caudally as its cells undergo two rounds of mediolateral cell-cell intercalation and two-three rounds of cell division.