Mouse retinal photoreceptor cell generation and morphogenesis take place in a well-characterized temporal sequence. Both rod and cone photoreceptor differentiation and synaptogenesis occur postnatally, but the relative timing of these events has been difficult to document due to the paucity of cell-specific markers. We have found that antibodies to neuron-specific enolase (NSE) preferentially label a subpopulation of photoreceptors in the outer nuclear layer (ONL) of the mouse retina in addition to labeling ganglion, amacrine, bipolar, and horizontal cells within the inner layers of the retina. The appearance of NSE immunoreactivity in the different classes of retinal neurons during development showed a close temporal relationship to the onset of expression of the synaptic vesicle-associated protein SV2 and clearly preceded the sequential development of synaptic connections in both inner and outer synaptic layers. The NSE-immunoreactive photoreceptors were identified as cones by dual labeling of their inner segments with the lectin peanut agglutinin or by colabeling with antisera to cone photopigments. Axonal extensions of NSE-labeled cone cells were shown to interact with those of differentiating horizontal cells as early as postnatal day 3 (P3). Colocalization of NSE with SV2 indicated that cone cells began to make synaptic contacts with horizontal cell processes several days prior to the development of rod synaptic terminals. Between P4 and P11, cone photoreceptor cell nuclei were observed to be scattered at various levels throughout the ONL and thus appeared to have become displaced from their previous position directly beneath the outer limiting membrane (OLM). By P12, the cone nuclei had migrated sclerad once again and were now observed to be neatly aligned adjacent to the OLM. In the rd mouse mutant, this migratory process was delayed, so that, at P12, positioning of the cone cell nuclei within the ONL was still quite irregular. Thus, we have identified a late migratory phase for cone photoreceptors during the second week after birth that correlates with the timing of maturation of the rod synaptic terminals just prior to eye opening. The types of cues used by maturing cone cells for their eventual sclerad location remain to be elucidated.