Abstract The mechanisms underlying transient reduction of cell number in the developing cerebellum of thyroid-deficient rats have been studied by quantitative histtological methods. Thyroid deficiency has no significant effect on the generation cyccle of dividing cells in either the subependymal layer of the lateral ventricular walls or the external granular layer of the cerebellum: the length of the cell cycle and the duration of the different phases of the cycle, including the DNA synthesis time appears to be normal. However, the external granular layer of the cerebellum contains fewer cells than in control at 12 days. Pyknotic nuclei are prominent in the granule cell layer of the hypothyroid cerebellum at this age. These amount to an estimated loss of about 1% of the total cerebellar cell population in 24 h. It is suggested that death of granule cells is for the most part a consequence of reduced Purkinje cell dendritic arborization, with failure of parallel fibre/Purkinje cell synaptogeneiis. In the second postnatal week, granule cell death and reduced numbers of cells in the germinal zone can account to a great extent for the observed shortfall in cerebellar DNA content. The eventual attainment of normal cell numbers in the cerebellum of hypothyroid rats is related to a persistent external granular layer in the fourth and fifth postnatal weeks.