The floor plate is a morphologically distinct structure of epithelial cells situated along the midline of the ventral spinal cord in vertebrates. It is a source of guidance molecules directing the growth of axons along and across the midline of the neural tube. In the zebrafish, the floor plate is about three cells wide and composed of cuboidal cells. Two cell populations can be distinguished by the expression patterns of several marker genes, including sonic hedgehog (shh) and the fork head-domain gene fkd4: a single row of medial floor plate (MFP) cells, expressing both shh and fkd4, is flanked by rows of lateral floor plate (LFP) cells that express fkd4 but not shh. Systematic mutant searches in zebrafish embryos have identified a number of genes, mutations in which visibly reduce the floor plate. In these mutants either the MFP or the LFP cells are absent, as revealed by the analysis of the shh and fkd4 expression patterns. MFP cells are absent, but LFP cells are present, in mutants of cyclops, one-eyed pinhead, and schmalspur, whose development of midline structures is affected. LFP cells are absent, but MFP cells are present, in mutants of four genes, sonic you, you, you-too, and chameleon, collectively called the you-type genes. This group of mutants also shows defects in patterning of the paraxial mesoderm, causing U- instead of V-shaped somites. One of the you-type genes, sonic you, was recently shown to encode the zebrafish Shh protein, suggesting that the you-type genes encode components of the Shh signaling pathway. It has been shown previously that in the zebrafish shh is required for the induction of LFP cells, but not for the development of MFP cells. This conclusion is supported by the finding that injection of shh RNA causes an increase in the number of LFP, but not MFP cells. Embryos mutant for iguana, detour, and umleitung share the lack of LFP cells with you-type mutants while somite patterning is not severely affected. In mutants that fail to develop a notochord, MFP cells may be present, but are always surrounded by LFP cells. These data indicate that shh, expressed in the notochord and/or the MFP cells, induces the formation of LFP cells. In embryos doubly mutant for cyclops (cyc) and sonic you (syu) both LFP and MFP cells are deleted. The number of primary motor neurons is strongly reduced in cyc;syu double mutants, while almost normal in single mutants, suggesting that the two different pathways have overlapping functions in the induction of primary motor neurons.