Cortical GABAergic neurons originate in the ventral telencephalon, invade the cortex via tangential migration, and integrate into the cortical plate by surface-directed and ventricle-directed migration. In mice lacking CXCR4 or SDF-1, GABAergic neurons fail to complete their migration. It is presently unknown which parts of the migration of CXCR4-expressing GABAergic neurons are driven by SDF-1. Here we compared patterns of SDF-1 isoforms and CXCR4 in the developing rat telencephalon. In the ventral telencephalon, radial glia, striatal, and migratory GABAergic neurons expressed CXCR4. Tangentially migrating CXCR4-expressing neurons populated the marginal zone and started to invade the lateral intermediate zone at embryonic day (E)14. Until E17 the spread of CXCR4-expressing neurons in the dorsomedial direction was accompanied by progressive upregulation of SDF-1α in the dorsomedial intermediate/subventricular zone. In the meninges, SDF-1α and SDF-1γ were expressed persistently. During invasion of the cortical plate the orientation of CXCR4-immunoreactive neurons changed gradually from tangential (E17/E18) to radial (postnatal day [P] 0), which was paralleled by downregulation of SDF-1α in the intermediate/subventricular zone. At E17, CXCR4-immunoreactive cells were colabeled with markers for ventral forebrain-derived neurons (Dlx) but not markers for glutamatergic (Tbr) or subplate (calretinin) neurons. Postnatally, calretinin- and somatostatin-expressing but not parvalbumin-expressing GABAergic neurons or pyramidal cells contained CXCR4. Pyramidal cells and few large blood vessels expressed SDF-1α, while microvessels contained SDF-1γ transcripts. In summary, SDF-1α is expressed along cortical but not subcortical migration routes of GABAergic neurons. We propose that regulated expression of SDF-1 in the intermediate/subventricular zone influences lateromedial tangential migration of CXCR4-expressing GABAergic neurons. J. Comp. Neurol. 502:382–399, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.