During the formation of brain nuclei, the vertebrate neural tube is partitioned into distinct embryonic divisions. In this study, the expression of three members of the cadherin family of adhesion molecules (cadherin-6B, cadherin-7, and R-cadherin) was mapped to study the differentiation of gray matter in the divisions of the diencephalic alar plate of chicken embryos from embryonic day 3 (E3) to E10. At early stages of development (E3-E4), each cadherin is expressed in restricted regions of the diencephalic wall of the neural tube. The borders of some of the expression domains coincide with divisional boundaries. As the mantle layer is formed and increases in thickness from E4 to E8, morphologically discernible aggregates of cells appear that express the three cadherins differentially. These aggregates represent the anlagen of specific diencephalic brain nuclei, e.g., the lateroanterior nucleus, the ventral geniculate nucleus, the nucleus rotundus, the perirotundic area, the principal precommissural nucleus, and the lateral spiriform nucleus. Most of the cadherin-expressing diencephalic nuclei studied in this work apparently derive from a single embryonic division and remain there. The divisional boundaries are replaced gradually by the borders of cadherin-expressing brain nuclei. The current results support the idea that cadherins confer differential adhesiveness to developing structures of gray matter in the diencephalic alar plate. Moreover, they suggest that each cadherin plays a role in the formation of specific brain nuclei within the diencephalic divisions.