The six layered cerebral cortex derives from cells that divide in the ventricular zone and migrate to their final destination in the cortical plate (future cortex). In the mouse, cortical layer III and IV neurons undergo their final mitotic division at around E16, at which time thalamic axons are beginning to enter the cortex. We used bromodeoxyuridine-birthdating of cells in cortical slice cultures to show that the thalamus enhances the migration out of the ventricular zone of future layer III/IV cells. When cortical slices were cultured alone, less than 35% of cells born in vitro on E16 were present in the pial half of the slice after 48 h in culture. In contrast, when cortical slices were cocultured with thalamus, 69% of these cells were found in the pial half of the slice. Explants of other developing tissues did not mimic the effect of the thalamus. The thalamus had no obvious effect on cortical radial glial cells, cortical cell viability or maintenance of cortical slice structure. We found that most precursors born at a similar age but in vivo, shortly before cortical slices were isolated, migrated to the pial half of the cultured slices in the absence of a cocultured thalamic explant. Thus, E16 cortical slices cultured without thalamus permit migration of cells born in vivo and therefore already exposed to the thalamus. Our results indicate that the thalamus provides factors to E16-born cortical precursors that enhance their directed migration out of the ventricular zone to the cortical plate.