Neurons in the macaque brain arise from progenitors located near the cerebral ventricles in a temporally segregated manner such that lethal doses of ionizing irradiation, if administered over a discrete time interval, can deplete individual nuclei selectively. A previous study showed that neuron number in the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus is reduced following early gestational exposure to x-irradiation (Algan and Rakic  J. Comp. Neurol. 12:335-352). Here we examine whether similarly timed irradiation decreases neuron number in three associational thalamic nuclei: mediodorsal (MD), anterior, and pulvinar. Ten macaques were exposed to multiple doses of x-rays (total exposure (175-350 cGy) in early gestation (E33-E42) or midgestation (E70-E90); eight nonirradiated macaques were controls. Only the early-irradiated monkeys, not the midgestationally irradiated animals, exhibited deficits in whole-thalamic neuron (-15%) and glia numbers (-21%) compared with controls. Reduction of neuron number (-26%) and volume (-29%) was particularly pronounced in MD. In contrast, cell number and volume were not significantly decreased in the anterior or pulvinar nuclei following early gestational irradiation. Thus, reduced thalamic neuron number was associated specifically with irradiation in early gestation. Persistence of the thalamic neuronal deficit in adult animals indicates that prenatally deleted neurons had not been replenished during maturation or in adulthood. The selective reduction of MD neuron number also supports the protomap hypothesis that neurons of each thalamic nucleus originate sequentially from separate lines of neuronal stem cells (Rakic [1977a] J. Comp. Neurol. 176:23-52). The early gestationally irradiated macaque is discussed as a potentially useful model for studying the neurodevelopmental pathogenesis of schizophrenia.