The late differentiation of the ectodermal layer is analysed in the ascidians Ciona intestinalis and Botryllus schlosseri, by means of light and electron microscopy, in order to verify the possible presence of placodal structures. Cranial placodes, ectodermal regions giving rise to nonepidermal cell types, are classically found exclusively in vertebrates; however, data are accumulating to demonstrate that the nonvertebrate chordates possess both the genetic machinery involved in placode differentiation, and ectodermal structures that are possible homologues of vertebrate placodes. Here, the term “placode” is used in a broad sense and defines thickenings of the ectodermal layer that can exhibit an interruption of the basal lamina where cells delaminate, and so are able to acquire a nonepidermal fate. A number of neurogenic placodes, ones capable of producing neurons, have been recognised; their derivatives have been analysed and their possible homologies with vertebrate placodes are discussed. In particular, the stomodeal placode may be considered a multiple placode, being composed of different sorts of placodes: part of it, which differentiates hair cells, is discussed as homologous to the octavo-lateralis placodes, while the remaining portion, giving rise to the ciliated duct of the neural gland, is considered homologous to the adenohypophyseal placode. The neurohypophyseal placode may include the homologues of the hypothalamus and vertebrate olfactory placode; the rostral placode, producing the sensorial papillae, may possibly be homologous to the placodes of the adhesive gland of vertebrates. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 302B:1–22, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.