Schwann cell-axon contacts in developing and regenerating peripheral nerve in situ contain high levels of the recognition molecules L1 and N-CAM, while the molecules are not detectable at the ab-axonal cell surface of Schwann cells. To investigate whether Schwann cells, axons, or both contribute to the localization of the molecules at Schwann cell-axon contacts, a heterologous cell culture system consisting of Schwann cells from mice and neurons from chicken was investigated by immunoelectron microscopy using species-specific L1 and N-CAM antibodies. We showed that Schwann cells expressed both molecules only at sites of contact between Schwann cells and neurites and other Schwann cells. Schwann cells not in contact with other cells expressed both molecules on their entire cell surface. In contrast, neurites expressed G4, an L1-related molecule in chicken, on their entire cell surface independently of whether they were in contact with other cells or not. Thus, cultured Schwann cells localize L1 and N-CAM selectively at cell contact sites and may thereby stabilize their attachment to the neighboring cellular partners.