In situ hybridization was used to map spatiotemporal expression patterns of the four known intronless POU-III transcription factor genes Brn-1, Brn-2, Brn-4, and Tst-1 in the developing rat forebrain vesicle, beginning on embryonic day 10. The results indicate that the proliferation layers (ventricular and subventricular) and mantle layer of the forebrain neural tube each display a strikingly unique pattern of regionalized POU-III expression. Within a particular region, or layer within a region, none to all four of the mRNAs may be detected, and during development a particular mRNA in a particular region displays one of five expression patterns, or a combination of these patterns, which may be described as conserved, lost, transient, acquired, or redeployed expression. In the developing brain as a whole, Brn-1 and Brn-2 early on display somewhat different spatial expression patterns that converge to essential identity in the adult, whereas Brn-4 expression is initially broad and becomes much more restricted in the adult, and Tst-1 expression expands greatly through development. Usually, though not always, expression patterns tend to correlate with major histological features in the forebrain (often internal or external sulci associated with proliferation zones), and little evidence for waves of expression moving through the whole forebrain over time was obtained. Thus, clear differences in hybridization intensity often are observed between the cerebral cortex, basal telencephalic nuclei, hypothalamus, ventral thalamus, dorsal thalamus, and pretectal region. In contrast, transverse bands of hybridization extending from the roof to the floor of the forebrain, corresponding to proposed neuromeres, were not observed with these probes. The results suggest that POU-III transcription factors help define specific regions in the early neuroepithelium as well as different cellular phenotypes in the ventricular, subventricular, and mantle layers of specific regions later in development. Thus, the functions of these regulatory proteins may be different in proliferating neuroepithelial cells, young neurons, and mature neurons and appear to be region-specific.