A series of 29 human embryonic brains were examined in order to characterize the ontogeny of dopaminergic neurons within the developing substantia nigra. Embryos from Postconception Weeks 4.0 to 11.2 (last menstrual period 6.0-13.2) were studied. Immunohistochemical staining was performed using a polyclonal antibody to tyrosine hydroxylase. Tyrosine hydroxylase-like immunoreactivity was first seen in cells of the ventral mesencephalon at 6.5 weeks adjacent to the ventricular zone. Ventral migration of TH-positive cells began at 6.7 weeks. Neural process extension was first identified in tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons at 8.0 weeks. The ascending nigrostriatal bundle was also first demonstrated at 8.0 weeks. Tyrosine hydroxylase containing neurites were seen initially in the developing putamen at 9.0 weeks. Only a few tyrosine hydroxylase-positive cells remained adjacent to the ventricular zone at Week 10.0 and all had disappeared from the ventricular zone by 11.2 weeks. At this latter stage, a large number of dopaminergic cells had elaborated neural processes. The sequence of developmental events of human mesencephalic dopaminergic neurons is similar to the equivalent period of ontogeny in other mammals. The duration of the developmental period is, however, significantly protracted.