The most severe brain damage associated with thyroid dysfunction during development is observed in neurological cretins from areas with marked iodine deficiency. The damage is irreversible by birth and related to maternal hypothyroxinemia before mid gestation. However, direct evidence of this etiopathogenic mechanism is lacking. Rats were fed diets with a very low iodine content (LID), or LID supplemented with KI. Other rats were fed the breeding diet with a normal iodine content plus a goitrogen, methimazole (MMI). The concentrations of -thyroxine (T4) and 3,5,3'triiodo--thyronine (T3) were determined in the brain of 21-d-old fetuses. The proportion of radial glial cell fibers expressing nestin and glial fibrillary acidic protein was determined in the CA1 region of the hippocampus. T4 and T3 were decreased in the brain of the LID and MMI fetuses, as compared to their respective controls. The number of immature glial cell fibers, expressing nestin, was not affected, but the proportion of mature glial cell fibers, expressing glial fibrillary acidic protein, was significantly decreased by both LID and MMI treatment of the dams. These results show impaired maturation of cells involved in neuronal migration in the hippocampus, a region known to be affected in cretinism, at a stage of development equivalent to mid gestation in humans. The impairment is related to fetal cerebral thyroid hormone deficiency during a period of development when maternal thyroxinemia is believed to play an important role.