Development of the neural crest involves a remarkable feat of coordinated cell migration in which cells detach from the neural tube, take varying routes of migration through the embryonic tissues and then differentiate at the end of their journey to participate in the formation of a number of organ systems. In general, neural crest cells appear to migrate without the guidance of long-range physical or chemical cues, but rather they respond to heterogeneity in the extracellular matrix that forms their migration substrate. Molecules such as fibronectin and laminin act as permissive substrate components, encouraging neural crest cell attachment and spreading, whereas chondroitin sulphate proteoglycans are nonpermissive for migration. A balance between permissive and nonpermissive substrate components seems to be necessary to ensure successful migration, as indicated by a number of studies in mouse mutant systems where nonpermissive molecules are over-expressed, leading to inhibition of neural crest migration. The neural crest expresses cell surface receptors that permit interaction with the extracellular matrix and may also modify the matrix by secretion of proteases. Thus the principles that govern the complex migration of neural crest cells are beginning to emerge.