The T (Brachyury) deletion in mouse is responsible for defective primitive streak and notochord morphogenesis, leading to a failure of the axis to elongate properly posterior to the forelimb bud. T/T embryonic stem (ES) cells colonise wild-type embryos, but in chimeras at 10.5 days post coitum (dpc) onwards they are found predominantly in the distal tail, while trunk paraxial and lateral mesoderm are deficient in T/T cells (Wilson, V., Rashbass, P. and Beddington, R. S. P. (1992) Development 117, 1321–1331). To determine the origin of this abnormal tissue distribution, we have isolated T/T and control T/+ ES cell clones which express lacZ constitutively using a gene trap strategy. Visualisation of T/T cell distribution in chimeric embryos throughout gastrulation up to 10.5 dpc shows that a progressive buildup of T/T cells in the primitive streak during gastrulation leads to their incorporation into the tailbud. These observations make it likely that one role of the T gene product is to act during gastrulation to alter cell surface (probably adhesion) properties as cells pass through the primitive streak. As the chimeric tail elongates at 10.5 dpc, abnormal morphology in the most distal portion becomes apparent. Comparison of T expression in the developing tailbud with the sites of accumulation of T/T cells in chimeras shows that T/T cells collect in sites where T would normally be expressed. T expression becomes internalised in the tailbud following posterior neuropore closure while, in abnormal chimeric tails, T/T cells remain on the surface of the distal tail. We conclude that prevention of posterior neuropore closure by the wedge of T/T cells remaining in the primitive streak after gastrulation is one source of the abnormal tail phenotypes observed. Accumulation of T/T cells in the node and anterior streak during gastrulation results in the preferential incorporation of T/T cells into the ventral portion of the neural tube and axial mesoderm. The latter forms compact blocks which are often fused with the ventral neural tube, reminiscent of the notochordal defects seen in intact mutants. Such fusions may be attributed to cell-autonomous changes in cell adhesion, possibly related to those observed at earlier stages in the primitive streak.