Many members of the basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) family of transcription factors play pivotal roles in the development of a variety of tissues and organisms. We identify activities for the neural bHLH proteins Mash1 and Math1 in inducing neuronal differentiation, and in inducing the formation of distinct dorsal interneuron subtypes in the chick neural tube. Although both factors induce neuronal differentiation, each factor has a distinct activity in the type of dorsal interneuron that forms, with overexpression of Math1 increasing dI1 interneurons, and Mash1 increasing dI3 interneurons. Math1 and Mash1 function as transcriptional activators for both of these functions. Furthermore, we define discrete domains within the bHLH motif that are required for these different activities in neural development. Helix 1 of the Mash1 HLH domain is necessary for Mash1 to be able to promote neuronal differentiation, and is sufficient to confer this activity to the non-neural bHLH factor MyoD. In contrast, helix 2 of Math1, and both helix 1 and 2 of Mash1, are the domains required for the neuronal specification activities of these factors. The requirement for distinct domains within the HLH motif of Mash1 and Math1 for driving neuronal differentiation and cell-type specification probably reflects the importance of unique protein-protein interactions involved in these functions.