Cranial neurulation is the embryonic process responsible for formation of the brain primordium. In the mouse embryo, cranial neurulation is a piecemeal process with several initiation sites and two neuropores. Variation in the pattern of cranial neurulation occurs in different mouse strains, and a simpler version of this morphogenetic scheme has been described in human embryos. Exencephaly is more common in females than in males, an unexplained phenomenon seen in both mice and humans. As the cranial neural tube closes, a critical morphogenetic event is the formation of dorsolateral bending points near the neural fold tips, which enables subsequent midline fusion of the neural folds. Many mutant and gene-targeted mouse strains develop cranial neural tube defects, and analysis of the underlying molecular defects identifies several requirements for normal dorsolateral bending. These include a functional actin cytoskeleton, emigration of the cranial neural crest, spatio-temporally regulated apoptosis, and a balance between cell proliferation and the onset of neuronal differentiation. A small number of mouse mutants exhibit craniorachischisis, a combined brain and spine neurulation defect. Recent studies show that disturbance of a single molecular signalling cascade, the planar cell polarity pathway, is implicated in mutants with this defect.