Carbocyanine dyes, fluorescent lipophilic substances used for optical recordings of membrane voltage and for studies of membrane fluidity, have recently been shown to provide intense and long-lasting staining of neurones in vivo and in vitro (Schwartz & Agranoff, 1981; Honig & Hume, 1985, 1986; Catsicas, Thanos & Clarke, 1986; Landmesser & Honig, 1986; Thanos & Bonhoeffer, 1987). We report here that two of these dyes, diI (1,1',dioctadecyl-3,3,3'3'-tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate) and diO (3,3'-dioctadecyloxacarbocyanine perchlorate), can also label neurones in embryonic mouse and chicken brain tissue that has been previously fixed in aldehyde fixatives. Neuronal processes and perikarya can be labelled along considerable distances in both anterograde and retrograde directions. The staining of processes and cells, including their finest extensions is smooth and clear, rivalling intracellular injections of HRP or Lucifer Yellow. The appearance and time course of progression of the staining along axons suggest that the staining in fixed tissue occurs due to a process of diffusion of dyes along the plasma membranes of cells. This technique has allowed us to study the first stages in the development of optic fibres in mouse embryos, especially at the optic chiasm. The early retinal projection (E13-E13 1/2) is mainly crossed, but some optic fibres grow to the ipsilateral side of the brain at the outset. Retrogradely labelled ganglion cells from the dorsocentral area of the retina participate in the formation of both the ipsilateral and the contralateral projection. Thus, at early stages, crossed and uncrossed projections arise from identical subregions of the retina and the partition of the retina with respect to the laterality of its projection arises later.