Three-dimensional reconstructions of the normal rat embryonic (E) neocortex on days E15, E17, E19, and E21, using Skandha (software designed by J. Prothero, University of Washington, Seattle), show that the neocortical ventricular zone shrinks rapidly in the medial direction during cortical morphogenesis. [3H]thymidine autoradiography indicates that the shrinkage of the ventricular zone occurs before neurons in lateral and ventrolateral parts of layers IV-II are generated. Consequently, most of these neurons originate 400-1000 microns medial to their settling sites in the cortical plate. Embryos killed at daily intervals up to E21 after a single injection of [3H]thymidine on either E17 or E18 revealed the presence of a prominent migratory path, the lateral cortical stream, used by neurons migrating to the lateral and ventrolateral cortical plate; neurons migrating to the dorsal cortical plate follow a direct radial path. Arrival times of neurons in the cortical plate depend on the migratory path and are proportional to the overall distance travelled. Neurons that migrate only radially arrive in the dorsal cortical plate in two days (shortest route). Neurons that migrate laterally arrive in the lateral cortical plate in 3 days (longer route) and in the ventrolateral cortical plate in 4 days (longest route). [3H]thymidine autoradiography also shows that cells generated in the neocortical ventricular zone migrate in the lateral cortical stream for 5 or more days and accumulate in a reservoir. Cells leave the reservoir to enter the piriform cortex and destinations (as yet undetermined) in the basal telencephalon. The lateral cortical stream is found wherever the neocortical primordium surrounds the basal ganglia and is absent behind the basal ganglia. A computer analysis of nuclear orientation in anterior and posterior parts of the intermediate zone in the dorsal neocortex between days E17 and E22 shows that horizontally oriented nuclei are more common anteriorly where many cells are migrating laterally than posteriorly where most cells are migrating radially.