Splotch (Sp) and splotch-delayed (Spd) are allelic mutations on chromosome 1 of the mouse. Embryos homozygous for either allele have neural tube defects (NTDs) and deficiencies in neural crest cell (NCC) derived structures. The fact that Spd mouse mutants sometimes have deficiencies in NCC derivatives in the absence of an NTD led to the hypothesis that neurulation and the release of NCCs may depend on a regulatory event that is common to both processes. Therefore, it may be possible to understand the cause of NTDs in these mutants by examining the basis of aberrant NCC derivatives. Caudal neural tubes were excised from day 9 Sp and Spd embryos and placed into gelatin-coated tissue culture dishes, or 3-dimensional basement membrane matrigel, and cultured for 72 hours. A cytogenetic marker was used to genotype the embryos. In planar cultures, no morphological differences were observed between NCCs from neural tube explants of Spd mutants compared to those from heterozygous or wild-type embryos. However, there appeared to be a delay in the release of NCCs from the neural tube in both Sp and Spd mutants, which was particularly evident in Sp. After 24 hours in culture, the extent of NCC outgrowth, as well as the number of NCCs emigrating from explanted neural tubes, was significantly lower in Sp and Spd mutant cultures than in controls. No differences were observed in the mitotic indices among cells which had emigrated. By 72 hours, mutant cultures and their non-mutant counterparts were similar in terms of outgrowth, cell number, and migratory capability. After 24 hours in 3-dimensional basement membrane matrigel, cell outgrowth from Sp explants was also significantly less than controls. The pattern of NCC outgrowth in both types of culture conditions indicates a 24 hour delay in mutant cultures compared to controls. This stems from a delay in the release of NCCs from the neural tube, suggesting that the defect lies within the neuroeptihelium with respect to the release of NCCs.