The cells arising in the anterior part of the subventricular zone (SVZa) migrate along a well-demarcated pathway which lacks radial glial fibers to the olfactory bulb where they differentiate into interneurons of the granule cell layer or glomerular layer (Luskin, 1993, Neuron 11, 173). To analyze the mechanisms underlying this highly directed migration, we have compared the migratory behavior of unmanipulated SVZa-derived cells to that of homotopically transplanted SVZa cells and of heterotopically transplanted telencephalic ventricular zone (VZ) cells that ordinarily migrate in association with radial glial fibers. To identify the phenotype of the SVZa progenitor cells prior to their transplantation, we characterized them in vitro using cell type-specific markers. After 1 day in culture nearly all the SVZa cells were stained with TuJ1, a neuron-specific marker; only an occasional cell exhibited a glial phenotype as judged by the presence of GFAP-immunoreactivity. This indicates that SVZa cells express a neuronal phenotype. To reveal the spatiotemporal distribution of homotopically transplanted neonatal SVZa cells in a host brain, dissociated SVZa cells from Postnatal Day 0 (P0)-P2 animals were labeled with the lipophilic dye PKH26 or the cell proliferation marker BrdU and implanted into the SVZa of host animals of the same age. Within the first week after transplantation there were vast numbers of labeled cells throughout the pathway. Over the next 2 weeks the labeled cells migrated into the overlying cellular layer of the olfactory bulb and began to differentiate, and within 4 weeks the transplanted cells had reached their final positions in the granule cell and glomerular layers of the olfactory bulb in the same proportions as for unmanipulated SVZa-derived cells. While en route to the olfactory bulb the homotopically transplanted cells never strayed from the migratory pathway. In contrast, heterotopically transplanted VZ cells from the embryonic telencephalon did not undergo migration although they did differentiate. These results demonstrate that the homotopically transplanted SVZa-derived cells adopt a mode of migration indistinguishable from that ordinarily utilized by SVZa-derived neurons and that the VZ cells are unable to decipher the same set of guidance cues.