In order to determine the embryonic age at which the hodological phenotype developed by neocortical cells is specified, we have examined the spinal or tectal projections developed by embryonic (E) grafts of presumptive frontal or occipital neocortex placed into the frontal or occipital neocortex of newborn host rats. Grafts of E13, E14 and E16 cells of the frontal cortex transplanted into the occipital cortex of newborns are capable of developing and maintaining in adulthood a spinal cord axon. Grafts of E12 cells do not project to the spinal cord but send fibres to the superficial layers of the tectum. In addition, following transplantation into the frontal cortex, early embryonic (E12) cells from the presumptive occipital cortex are capable of differentiating into neurons with spinal cord projection but are practically incapable of developing a tectal projection. When grafted at E14 into the frontal cortex, occipital cells lose the capacity to project to the spinal cord but become able to send fibres to the tectum. Taken together, these findings indicate that young (E12) embryonic frontal and occipital cortical cells are competent to subsequently differentiate into neurons projecting to the spinal cord or tectum according to instructive signals available in the cortical territory where they complete their development. By E13/E14, some cortical cells are specified and their capacity to contact targets that are not appropriate to their embryonic origin is much reduced. These findings are consistent with the notion that cortical specification involves progressive restriction in cell multipotentiality and fate specification toward region-specific phenotypes.