Nitric oxide synthase is co-localized with somatostatin and neuropeptide Y in a subpopulation of striatal interneurons that stain selectively for NADPH-diaphorase. We studied the ontogeny of diaphorase-positive neurons in striatal serum-free cultures derived from 15-16-day-old CD1 mice. NADPH-diaphorase staining was detected as early as embryological day 18 in vivo and day 5 in vitro. Over the next seven days the number of neurons staining for NADPH-diaphorase increased rapidly and then levelled off at about 0.5-1% of the total neuronal population both in vivo and in vitro. The cultured diaphorase neurons were also similar to their in vivo counterparts in terms of morphology and dendritic branching. Striatal neurons expressing NADPH-diaphorase exhibit similar ontogeny, morphology and neurochemical characteristics in vivo and in serum-free primary neuronal cultures. The culture system may represent a useful model for studying this important subgroup of striatal neurons.