Immunocytochemical methods were used to show that Ng-CAM (the neuron-glia cell adhesion molecule), N-CAM (the neural cell adhesion molecule), and the extracellular matrix protein cytotactin are highly concentrated at nodes of Ranvier of the adult chicken and mouse. In contrast, unmyelinated axonal fibers were uniformly stained by specific antibodies to both CAMs but not by antibodies to cytotactin. Ultrastructural immunogold techniques indicated that both N-CAM and Ng-CAM were enriched in the nodal axoplasm and axolemma of myelinated fibers as well as within the nodal regions of the myelinating Schwann cell. At embryonic day 14, before myelination had occurred, small-caliber fibers of chick embryos showed periodic coincident accumulations of the two CAMs but not of cytotactin, with faint labeling in the axonal regions between accumulations. Cytotactin was found on Schwann cells and in connective tissue. By embryonic day 18, nodal accumulations of CAMs were first observed in a few medium- and large-caliber fibers. Immunoblot analyses indicated that embryonic to adult conversion of N-CAM and a progressive decrease in the amount of Ng-CAM and N-CAM occurred while nodes were forming. Sciatic nerves of mouse mutants with defects in cell interactions showed abnormalities in the distribution patterns and amount of Ng-CAM, N-CAM, and cytotactin that were consistent with the known morphological nodal disorders. In trembler (+/Tr), intense staining for both CAMs appeared all along the fibers and the amounts of N-CAM in the sciatic nerve were found to be increased. In mice with motor endplate disease (med/med), Ng-CAM and N-CAM, but not cytotactin, were localized in the widened nodes. Both trembler and med/med Schwann cells stained intensely for cytotactin, in contrast to normal Schwann cells which stained only slightly. All of these findings are consistent with the hypothesis that surface modulation of neuronal CAMs mediated by signals shared between neurons and glia may be necessary for establishing and maintaining the nodes of Ranvier.