Axon formation in developing cerebellar granule neurons in situ is spatially and temporally segregated from subsequent neuronal migration and dendrite formation. To examine the role of local environmental cues on early steps in granule cell differentiation, the sequence of morphologic development and polarized distribution of membrane proteins was determined in granule cells isolated from contact with other cerebellar cell types. Granule cells cultured at low density developed their characteristic axonal and dendritic morphologies in a series of discrete temporal steps highly similar to those observed in situ, first extending a unipolar process, then long, thin bipolar axons, and finally becoming multipolar, forming short dendrites around the cell body. Axonal- and dendritic-specific cytoskeletal markers were segregated to the morphologically distinct domains. The cell surface distribution of a specific class of endogenous glycoproteins, those linked to the membrane by a glycosylphosphatidyl inositol (GPI) anchor, was also examined. The GPI-anchored protein, TAG-1, which is segregated to the parallel fiber axons in situ, was found exclusively on granule cell axons in vitro; however, two other endogenous GPI-anchored proteins were found on both the axonal and somatodendritic domains. These results demonstrate that granule cells develop polarity in a cell type-specific manner in the absence of the spatial cues of the developing cerebellar cortex.