The generation of distinct classes of motor neurons is an early step in the control of vertebrate motor behavior. To study the interactions that control the generation of motor neuron subclasses in the developing avian spinal cord we performed in vivo grafting studies in which either the neural tube or flanking mesoderm were displaced between thoracic and brachial levels. The positional identity of neural tube cells and motor neuron subtype identity was assessed by Hox and LIM homeodomain protein expression. Our results show that the rostrocaudal identity of neural cells is plastic at the time of neural tube closure and is sensitive to positionally restricted signals from the paraxial mesoderm. Such paraxial mesodermal signals appear to control the rostrocaudal identity of neural tube cells and the columnar subtype identity of motor neurons. These results suggest that the generation of motor neuron subtypes in the developing spinal cord involves the integration of distinct rostrocaudal and dorsoventral patterning signals that derive, respectively, from paraxial and axial mesodermal cell groups.