Polysialic acid (PSA), a carbohydrate epitope attached to the neural cell adhesion molecule, serves as a modulator of axonal interactions during vertebrate nervous system development. We have used PSA-specific antibodies and whole-mount immunocytochemistry to describe the spatiotemporal expression pattern of PSA during zebrafish central nervous system development. PSA is transiently expressed on all cell bodies and, except for the posterior commissure, it is not found on axons. Floorplate cells in the spinal cord and hindbrain strongly express PSA throughout development. Enzymatic removal of PSA leads to a defasciculated growth pattern of the posterior commissure and also affects distinct subsets of commissural axons in the hindbrain, which fail to cross the midline. Whereas the disordered growth pattern of hindbrain commissures produced by PSA-removal could be mimicked by injections of soluble PSA, the growth of axons in the posterior commissure was unaffected by such treatment. These results suggest that there are distinct mechanisms for PSA action during axon growth and pathfinding in the developing zebrafish CNS.