A prominent element of the early larval pigment pattern in the salamander Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum (family Ambystomatidae) is a horizontal stripe over the lateral surface of the myotomes where otherwise abundant, neural crest-derived melanophores are not found. This study examines the formation of this "melanophore-free region". When the trunk lateral lines were ablated (by removing cranial lateral line placodes), the melanophore-free region did not form; instead, melanophores populated the middle of the flank and the distribution of yellow, neural chest-derived zanthophores was perturbed. Time-lapse videomicrography demonstrated that during normal development, the melanophore-free region is established because melanophores retreat from the midbody lateral line primordium as it migrates caudally along the inner side of the epidermis. Melanophores do not repopulate the middle of the flank after primordium migration and heterochronic grafting experiments suggest that extracellular factors contribute to maintaining the melanophore-free region during these later stages. Finally, photographic series, microsurgical manipulations, electron microscopy, and staining for molecules of the extracellular matrix (peanut agglutinin-binding components, tenascin, chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, fibronectin, laminin) suggest that several factors contribute to establishing and maintaining the melanophore-free region, including steric effects of the lateral lines, interactions between melanophores and xanthophores, lateral line-dependent alterations of the subepidermal basement membrane, and a general elaboration of the extracellular matrix. Lateral line effects on melanophores are inferred to be a shared, ancestral feature of pigment pattern development for the families Ambystomatidae and Salamandridae (D.M. Parichy, Dev. Biol. 174, 265-282. 1996). The results of this study thus provide insights into a phylogenetically primitive mechanism for stripe formation, and a context for interpreting evolutionary innovations in pattern-forming mechanisms.