The optic tectum is the major synaptic target of retinal axons in birds. In the chick, retinal ganglion cell axons enter the optic tectum through a superficial lamina (the stratum opticum), extended branches into deeper laminae, and arborize in specific “retinorecipient” laminae, where they form synapses. Studies using an organotypic culture system have provided evidence that the tectum bears a series of distinct, lamina-specific, cell surface-associated cues that direct these axonal behaviors (Yamagata and Sanes, 1995). Here, we have used a panel of antibodies to 30 membrane and matrix components to ask whether known adhesive molecules are distributed in lamina-specific patterns. Among many spatiotemporal pattern of expression documented, three were particularly noteworthy: (1) The cell adhesion molecules NgCAM/L1 and TAG-1/axonin-1 were concentrated in the stratum opticum. (2) SC1/JC7/DM- GRASP/BEN, N-cadherin, neuropilin, polysialylated N-CAM, and glycoconjugates recognized by the lectin VVA-B4 were concentrated in retinorecipient laminae. (3) Neurofascin, tenascin-C/cytotactin, and a matrix molecule defined by the “Sigma” antibody were present at highest levels in areas that border the retinorecipient laminae. Some members of each group (NgCAM/L1, TAG-1/axonin, SC1/JC7, polysialic acid, VVA-B4- receptors, and neurofascin) appeared on schedule and in lamina- restricted patterns in tecta from embryos that had been enucleated before retinal axons left the eye. Thus, molecules in these three categories could provide signals to retinal axons that promote extension through the stratum opticum, induce arborization or synaptogenesis in retinorecipient laminae, and prevent sprouting into adjoining laminae. Interestingly, N-cadherin accumulated in retinorecipient laminae only following the onset of synapse formation, and failed to accumulate in enucleated tecta. Immunoelectron microscopy of normal tecta demonstrated the presence of N-cadherin in the synaptic cleft, suggesting a role for this molecule in synaptic maintenance.