To identify molecules important for pathfinding by growing axons, monoclonal antibodies (mAb) have been generated against embryonic grasshopper tissue. One mAb, 2B2, shows labeling exclusively in the nervous system. It recognizes a surface epitope on neuronal growth cones, filopodia and axons in the central nervous system (CNS). Initially, the antigen is expressed on all processes of the CNS; after 70% of embryonic development, localization of the 2B2 mAb is restricted to a small subset of axon tracts within the ganglia. Immunoprecipitation from embryonic membrane extracts with the 2B2 mAb reveals a unique band of 160 x 10(3) Mr. Functional studies with the 2B2 mAb demonstrate that the antigen is important in growth cone-axon interactions during process outgrowth. Growth cones that extend along axonal substrata are either blocked in growth or grow along an aberrant pathway when embryos are cultured in the presence of the 2B2 mAb. However, pioneer neurons that extend processes on non-neuronal substrata grow normally.