After unilateral ablation of the avian cranial neural folds, the remaining neuroepithelial cells are able to replace the missing neural crest population (Scherson et al., 1993). Here, we characterize the cellular and molecular nature of this regulative response by defining: (1) the time and location of neural crest cell production by the neuroepithelium; (2) rostrocaudal axial differences in the regulative response; and (3) the onset of expression of Slug, a transcription factor present in premigratory and migrating neural crest cells. Using DiI and HNK-1 antibody labeling techniques, we find that neural crest regeneration occurs only after apposition of the remaining neuroepithelium with the epidermis, suggesting that the developmental mechanism underlying regeneration of the neural crest may recapitulate initial generation of the neural crest. The regulative response occurs maximally at the 3–5 somite stage, and slowly declines thereafter. Surprisingly, there are profound regional differences in the regenerative ability. Whereas a robust regulation occurs in the caudal midbrain/hindbrain, the caudal forebrain/rostral midbrain regenerates neural crest to a much lesser extent. After neural fold removal in the hindbrain, regenerated neural crest cells migrate in a segmental pattern analogous to that seen in unablated embryos; a decrease in regulative response appears to occur with increasing depth of the ablation. Up-regulation of Slug appears to be an early response after ablation, with Slug transcripts detectable proximal to the ablated region 5–8 hours after surgery and prior to emergence of neural crest cells. Both bilateral and unilateral ablations yield substantial numbers of neural crest cells, though the former recover less rapidly and have greater deficits in neural crest-derived structures than the latter. These experiments demonstrate that the regulative ability of the cranial neuroepithelium to form neural crest depends on the time, location and extent of neural fold ablation.