The myocardial wall of the vertebrate heart changes from a simple epithelium to a trabeculated structure during embryogenesis. This process occurs when epithelioid cardiomyocytes migrate toward the endocardium, which we show is coincident with up-regulation of the cell adhesion molecule, N-cadherin. To study the role of N-cadherin expressed at the trabeculation stage, a replication-defective retrovirus expressing a dominant negative mutant of N-cadherin (delta N-cadherin) was engineered. Control viruses were designed to express beta-galactosidase or a full-length N-cadherin. Viruses were introduced into epithelioid presumptive myocytes at the time they initiate the epithelial-mesenchymal transformation. Individual cells infected with control viruses generated daughter myocytes which migrated toward endocardium as a tight cluster, thereby generating a clone that forms a single or at most two trabeculae. In contrast, myocytes expressing delta N-cadherin were sparsely distributed within the myocardium and failed to form the ridge-shaped clone. Thus, in addition to its known roles in myocyte epithelialization and intercalated disc formation, N-cadherin appears to play a role in homotypic interactions between nonepithelial migratory myocytes during trabecular formation of the embryonic heart.