For neural crest cells to engage in migration, it is necessary that epithelial premigratory crest cells convert into mesenchyme. The mechanisms that trigger cell delamination from the dorsal neural tube remain poorly understood. We find that, in 15- to 40-somite-stage avian embryos, BMP4 mRNA is homogeneously distributed along the longitudinal extent of the dorsal neural tube, whereas its specific inhibitor noggin exists in a gradient of expression that decreases caudorostrally. This rostralward reduction in signal intensity coincides with the onset of emigration of neural crest cells. Hence, we hypothesized that an interplay between Noggin and BMP4 in the dorsal tube generates graded concentrations of the latter that in turn triggers the delamination of neural crest progenitors. Consistent with this suggestion, disruption of the gradient by grafting Noggin-producing cells dorsal to the neural tube at levels opposite the segmental plate or newly formed somites, inhibited emigration of HNK-1-positive crest cells, which instead accumulated within the dorsal tube. Similar results were obtained with explanted neural tubes from the same somitic levels exposed to Noggin. Exposure to Follistatin, however, had no effect. The Noggin-dependent inhibition was overcome by concomitant treatment with BMP4, which when added alone, also accelerated cell emigration compared to untreated controls. Furthermore, the observed inhibition of neural crest emigration in vivo was preceded by a partial or total reduction in the expression of cadherin-6B and rhoB but not in the expression of slug mRNA or protein. Altogether, these results suggest that a coordinated activity of Noggin and BMP4 in the dorsal neural tube triggers delamination of specified, slug-expressing neural crest cells. Thus, BMPs play multiple and discernible roles at sequential stages of neural crest ontogeny, from specification through delamination and later differentiation of specific neural crest derivatives.