The somatosensory (SI) cortex of mice displays a patterned, nonuniform distribution of neurons in layer IV called the 'barrelfield' (ref. 1). Thalamocortical afferents (TCAs) that terminate in layer IV are segregated such that each barrel, a readily visible cylindrical array of neurons surrounding a cell-sparse center, represents a distinct receptive field. TCA arbors are confined to the barrel hollow and synapse on barrel-wall neurons whose dendrites are oriented toward the center of the barrel. Mice homozygous for the barrelless (brl) mutation, which occurred spontaneously in ICR stock at Université de Lausanne (Switzerland), fail to develop this patterned distribution of neurons, but still display normal topological organization of the SI cortex. Despite the absence of barrels and the overlapping zones of TCA arborization, the size of individual whisker representations, as judged by 2-deoxyglucose uptake, is similar to that of wild-type mice. We identified adenylyl cyclase type I (Adcy1) as the gene disrupted in brl mutant mice by fine mapping of proximal chromosome 11, enzyme assay, mutation analysis and examination of mice homozygous for a targeted disruption of Adcy1. These results provide the first evidence for involvement of cAMP signalling pathways in pattern formation of the brain.