Topographic maps, which maintain the spatial order of neurons in the order of their axonal connections, are found throughout the nervous system. In the visual retinotectal projection, ELF-1, a ligand in the tectum, and its receptors in the retina show complementary gradients in expression and binding, indicating they may be positional labels for map development. Here we show that ELF-1 acts as a repellent axon guidance factor in vitro. In vivo, when the tectal ELF-1 pattern is modified by retroviral overexpression, retinal axons avoid ectopic ELF-1 patches and map to abnormally anterior positions. All these effects were seen on axons from temporal but not nasal retina, indicating that ELF-1 could determine nasal versus temporal retinotectal specificity, and providing a direct demonstration of a cell recognition molecule with topographically specific effects on neural map development.