The topographic organization of the thalamocortical axons (TCAs) in the barrel field (BF) in the rodent primary somatosensory cortex results from a succession of temporally and spatially precise developmental events. Prenatally, growth and guidance mechanisms enable TCAs to navigate through the forebrain and reach the cortex. Postnatally, TCAs grow into the cortex, and the refinement of their terminal arborization pattern in layer IV creates barrel-like structures. The combined results of studies performed over the past 20 years clearly show that serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) signaling modulates these pre- and early postnatal developmental processes. In this context, 5-HT signaling can purposely be described as ‘modulating’ rather than ‘controlling’ because developmental alterations of 5-HT synthesis, uptake or degradation either have a dramatic, moderate or no effect at all on TCA pathway and BF formation. In this review we summarize and compare the outcomes of diverse pharmacological and genetic manipulations of 5-HT signaling on TCA pathway and BF formation, in an attempt to understand these discrepancies.