During development axons contact their target tissues with phenomenal accuracy but the mechanisms that control this homing behaviour remain largely elusive. A prerequisite to the study of the factors involved in hard-wiring the nervous system during neurogenesis is an accurate calendar of developmental events. We have studied the maxillary and mandibular components of the trigeminal system to determine the stages during embryogenesis when a gross somatotopic order is first established within the trigeminal ganglion and the axons projecting to the brainstem. The retrograde transganglionic fluorescent tracers DiO and DiI were injected into the maxillary and mandibular arches or their derivatives in fixed mouse embryos staged between 13 and 40 somites (E9-E11). After 1-4 wk, the distribution of the 2 tracers was determined using confocal laser scanning microscopy. The first maxillary nerve cell bodies and their developing axons were labelled at the 30 somite stage (E10). This was 2 somite stages earlier than the mesencephalic nucleus and the ganglion cell bodies of the mandibular nerve. The gross somatotopic division of cells within the trigeminal ganglion projecting to the maxillary and mandibular targets was established by the 32 somite stage (E10). This arrangement was evident as 2 groups of cell bodies occupying adjacent but separate regions of the trigeminal ganglion. The central branches of the maxillary and mandibular cell bodies entered the metencephalon as 2 distinct bundles at the same stage. The trigeminal motor nucleus was first detected at the 38 somite stage (E10.5). Gross somatotopy in the major divisions of the trigeminal ganglion is established before outgrowing axons have contacted their peripheral target tissue at E10.5. This suggests that target tissues do not induce somatotopy.