Gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) is produced and secreted by neurons dispersed throughout the septal-preoptic and anterior hypothalamic areas in adult birds and mammals. These neurons, essential for a functional brain-pituitary-gonadal axis, differentiate in the olfactory placode, the superior aspect of which forms the olfactory epithelium. To reach their final placement within the brain, GnRH neurons migrate out of the epithelium and along the olfactory nerve to the CNS. This nerve is essential for the entrance of GnRH neurons into the CNS. Due to the importance of the nerve for the proper migration of these neurons, we have used immunocytochemistry, DiI labeling and 1 microm serial plastic-embedded sections to characterize the nerve's earliest development in the embryonic chick (stages 17-21). Initially (stage 17) the zone between the placode and prosencephalon is a cellular mass contiguous with the placode. This cluster, known as epithelioid cells, is positive for some but not all neuronal markers studied. The epithelium itself is negative for all neuronal and glial markers at this early stage. By stage 18, the first neurites emerge from the epithelium; this was confirmed at stage 19 by examination of serial 1 microm plastic sections. There is sequential acquisition of immunoreactivity to neuronal markers from stage 18 to 21. The glial component of the nerve appears at stage 21. Axons originating from epithelium, extend to the border of the CNS as confirmed by DiI labeling at stage 21. Small fascicles have entered the CNS at this stage. As previously reported, GnRH neurons begin their migration between stages 20-21 and have also arrived at the border of the brain at stage 21. Despite the penetration of neurites from the olfactory nerve into the CNS, GnRH neurons pause at the nerve-brain junction until stage 29 (2 1/2 days later) before entering the brain. Subsequent studies will examine the nature of the impediment to continued GnRH neuronal migration.