The earliest stage of neural crest cell (NCC) migration is characterized by an epitheliomesenchymal transformation, as the cells leave the neural tube. There is evidence that in a number of cell systems this transformation is accompanied by alteration or depletion of associated basement membranes. This study examines the ultrastructural relationship between mouse NCCs and adjacent basement membranes during the earliest stages of migration from the neural tube. Basement membranes were identified by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and immunofluorescence using antibodies to type-IV collagen. The ultrastructural features of NCCs and their relationship with surrounding tissues were also examined using TEM. In the dorsal region of the neural tube, from which NCCs originate, the basement membrane was depleted or absent, and with the immunofluorescence technique it was shown that this pattern was reflected in a deficit of type-IV collagen. TEM observations indicated that ultrastructurally NCCs differ from their neuroepithelial neighbours only in overall cell shape and their relationship to other cells and the extracellular matrix.