Neural crest (NC) cells are a multipotent, highly migratory cell population that generates most of the components of the peripheral nervous system (PNS), including the glial Schwann cells (SC) and boundary cap (BC) cells. These latter cells are located at the interface between the central nervous system and PNS, at the exit/entry points of ventral motor/dorsal sensory axons and give rise to all SC in the nerve roots and to a subset of nociceptive neurons and satellite cells in the dorsal root ganglia. In the present study we have compared BC cells with two closely related cell types, NC and Schwann cell precursors (SCpr), by RNA profiling. This led to the definition of a set of 10 genes that show specific expression in BC cells and/or in their derivatives along the nerve roots. Analysis of the expression of these genes during mouse development revealed novel features, of those most important are: (i) dorsal and ventral nerve root BC cell derivatives express different sets of genes, suggesting that they have distinct properties; (ii) these cells undergo major modifications in their gene expression pattern between embryonic days 14.5 and 17.5, possibly linked to the SCpr-immature Schwann cell transition; (iii) nerve roots SC differ from more distal SC not only in their origins and locations, but also in their gene expression patterns. In conclusion, the identification of these novel makers opens the way for a detailed characterization of BC cells in both mouse and man. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.