In this review, we describe general features of the expression of cadherins in the developing central nervous system (CNS) of vertebrates. In the early neuroepithelium, the expression of several cadherins is restricted to specific regions corresponding to segmental domains. Segmental boundaries often coincide with changes in cadherin expression, subdividing the primordial CNS into different adhesive domains. In the different neuromeric domains, early neurons are generated which differentially express cadherins. In the mantle layer, these early neurons seem to sort out according to which cadherin they express, and they aggregate into various gray matter regions (brain nuclei and cortical lamina and regions). The gray matter structures expressing a given cadherin become connected to one another to form parts of particular functional systems or neuronal circuits. Together, these findings show that cadherins provide a molecular system reflecting both early embryonic and mature nervous system architecture. The possible roles of cadherins in the formation and maintenance of segmental and functional nervous system structures are discussed.