We used immunohistochemistry to examine possible molecular interactions between the subplate and growing thalamocortical axons in rat fetuses. In the cortical anlage of embryonic day 16 (E16), the subplate first appeared below the cortical plate. Among chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, phosphacan was uniformly distributed throughout the cortical wall, whereas neurocan was localized only in the subplate at E16. Neural cell adhesion molecules, NCAM-H, TAG-1, and L1, were detected in the cortical anlage. Both cortical neurons and growing axons were diffusely immunopositive for NCAM-H, and TAG-1 immunoreactivity was found on immature neurons and cortical efferent axons but not on thalamocortical axons. L1 immunoreactivity was specifically localized on the growing thalamocortical axons. When the locations of neurocan and L1 were compared in the developing cortex, L1-bearing axons were found to extend to neurocan-immunopositive regions; neurocan immunoreactivity was intense in the subplate at E16, when small numbers of L1-immunoreactive thalamocortical axons began to invade the cortex. At E17, many L1-positive axons were observed in the subplate that expressed neurocan specifically. Double immunostaining showed that L1-positive axons and neurocan immunoreactivity overlapped in the subplate at E17. After E18, neurocan expression gradually extended to the lower part of the cortical plate; it extended to the entire cortex by E21, 1 day before birth. By E21, L1-bearing axons had invaded the lower part of the cortical plate. The present study demonstrated that the neurocan expression precedes growth of L1-bearing thalamocortical afferent fibers. Because neurocan can bind to L1 molecule in vitro, these results suggest that neurocan and L1 play some important roles in pathfinding of the thalamocortical afferent fibers during rat corticogenesis.