The prenatal development of the serotonin transporter was analyzed in mouse brain and spinal cord by autoradiographic localization of [3H]citalopram binding. Transporter expression started at embryonic day (E) 12 in two discontinuous bands in the anterior and posterior brainstem. Labeling extended cranially and caudally, reaching the basal diencephalon at E 13, the septal complex at E 15, and the cerebral cortex at E 16. The caudal extension of the labeling descended at the ventrolateral margin of the spinal cord and reached lumbar levels at E 14. At E 17-E 18, [3H]citalopram binding emerged in the striatum, amygdaloid area, ventrobasal thalamus, paraventricular and periventricular hypothalamic nuclei, and substantia nigra. The overall spatiotemporal expression pattern of the serotonin transporter in the mouse agrees with data on the immunohistochemical localization of serotonin in the rat embryo. These results suggest that serotonergic fibers have the equipment to engage in transmitter reuptake long before synapse formation, and that transporter expression might represent a prerequesite for the developmental functions exerted by serotonin.