Neuroepithelial cells can generate nonepithelial cells, the neurons. Here we have investigated, for chick and mouse embryos, the epithelial character of neuroepithelial cells in the context of neurogenesis by examining the presence of molecular components of tight junctions during the transition from the neural plate to the neural tube. Immunoreactivity for occludin, a transmembrane protein specific to tight junctions, was detected at the apical end of the lateral membrane of neuroepithelial cells throughout the chick neural plate. During neural tube closure, occludin disappeared from all neuroepithelial cells. Correspondingly, the addition of horseradish peroxidase to the apical side of the neuroepithelium by injection into the amniotic cavity of mouse embryos revealed the presence of functional tight junctions in the neural plate (Embryonic Day 8), but not the neural tube (Embryonic Day 9). In contrast to occludin, expression of ZO-1, a peripheral membrane protein of tight junctions, increased from the neural plate to the neural tube stage, also being confined to the apical end of the lateral neuroepithelial cell membrane. This localization coincided with that of N-cadherin, whose expression increased concomitantly with the disappearance of occludin. We propose that the loss of tight junctions from neuroepithelial cells reflects an overall decrease in their epithelial nature, which precedes the generation of neurons.