The notochord defines the axial structure of all vertebrates during development. Notogenesis is a result of major cell reorganization in the mesoderm, the convergence and the extension of the axial cells. However, it is currently not fully understood how these processes act together in a coordinated way during notochord formation. The prechordal plate is an actively migrating cell population in the central mesoderm anterior to the trailing notochordal plate cells. We show that prechordal plate cells express Protocadherin 18a (Pcdh18a), a member of the cadherin superfamily. We find that Pcdh18a-mediated recycling of E-cadherin adhesion complexes transforms prechordal plate cells into a cohesive and fast migrating cell group. In turn, the prechordal plate cells subsequently instruct the trailing mesoderm. We simulated cell migration during early mesoderm formation using a lattice-based mathematical framework and predicted that the requirement for an anterior, local motile cell cluster could guide the intercalation and extension of the posterior, axial cells. Indeed, a grafting experiment validated the prediction and local Pcdh18a expression induced an ectopic prechordal plate-like cell group migrating towards the animal pole. ... mehrOur findings indicate that the Pcdh18a is important for prechordal plate formation, which influences the trailing mesodermal cell sheet by orchestrating the morphogenesis of the notochord.