The rodent trigeminal system is characterized by the punctate organization of its afferents and neurons that replicate the distribution of mystacial vibrissae and sinus hairs on the snout. We have examined the development of topographic equivalence between the sensory periphery on the snout and the brainstem trigeminal nuclei in rats. Lipophilic tracers Dil (1,1′-dioctodecyl-3,3,3′,3′- tetramethylindocarbocyanine perchlorate) and DiA [4-(4- dihexadecylaminostyryl)-N-methylpyridinium iodide] were used to label trigeminal ganglion cells and their processes differentially from discrete regions of the presumptive vibrissa field in fixed embryos. Our results show that trigeminal ganglion cell processes are spatially ordered as they reach their peripheral and central targets on embryonic day 12 (E12). Peripheral processes of dorsomedially situated ganglion cells course dorsally toward the presumptive vibrissa field, and those of ventrolaterally situated ganglion cells project ventrally. On E13, the central processes of dorsomedially situated ganglion cells enter the brainstem medially whereas those of ventrolaterally situated ganglion cells enter laterally. This spatial order of trigeminal ganglion cell processes precedes the emergence of vibrissa rows in the periphery and the differentiation of brainstem trigeminal nuclei. Thus, the subsequent transfer of the vibrissa-related pattern to the brainstem trigeminal nuclei occurs along a preexisting, spatially aligned bridge formed by the trigeminal ganglion cells.