The prenatal and postnatal development of GABAergic elements in the neocortex of the mouse was analyzed by GABA-immunocytochemistry. Radial distribution of cells and laminar numerical densities were calculated at each developmental stage to substantiate qualitative observations. The first immunoreactive neurons were observed in the cortical anlage at embryonic day 12-embryonic day 13 (E12-E13) in the primitive plexiform layer. At following prenatal stages (E14-E19), most GABA-positive neurons were present in the marginal zone, subplate, and subventricular zone. GABA-immunoreactivity in the cortical plate appeared early (E14), although the complete maturation of its derivatives was achieved postnatally. At prenatal stages we noted a well-developed system of immunopositive fibers in the subplate. As indicated by the direction of growth cones, most of these fibers had an extracortical origin and invaded the cortex laterally through the internal capsule and striatum. In rostral and middle telencephalic levels, fibers originating in the septal region contributed to the cingulate bundle. Presumably corticofugal fibers and callosal axons were also noticed. At postnatal stages the maturation of GABA-immunoreactivity appeared to be a complex, long-lasting process, in which the adult pattern was produced at the same time as the appearance of certain regressive phenomena. Thus, between postnatal day 0 and postnatal day 8 (P0-P8), GABA-positive populations disappeared from the subventricular zone, marginal zone and to a lesser extent from the subplate. At the same ages we noticed the presence of morphologically abnormal, GABA-immunoreactive neurons in the subventricular zone and subplate which are interpreted as correlates of neuronal degeneration. Most GABA-positive subplate fibers also disappeared whereas GABA-immunoreactive axons were seen in the cingulate bundle until the adult stage. In the derivatives of the cortical plate, the maturation of GABA-immunoreactive elements progressed according to the "inside-out" gradient of cortical development, with the important exception of layer IV, which was the last layer to exhibit an adult-like appearance. Within each layer deriving from the cortical plate (layers VIa to II-III), GABA-immunoreactivity showed a protracted maturation in which the first GABA-positive cells were detected a few days after cell birth but substantial numbers of neurons began to express GABA considerably later. The later phase occurred concurrently with the maturation of GABA-positive axonal plexuses. These results suggest that different GABA-positive populations show different developmental regulation of GABA expression during cortical ontogenesis.