The development of neurons expressing γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the rhombencephalon and spinal cord of the sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) was studied for the first time with an anti-GABA antibody. The earliest GABA-immunoreactive (GABAir) neurons appear in late embryos in the basal plate of the isthmus, caudal rhombencephalon, and rostral spinal cord. In prolarvae, the GABAir neurons of the rhombencephalon appear to be distributed in spatially restricted cellular domains that, at the end of the prolarval period, form four longitudinal GABAir bands (alar dorsal, alar ventral, dorsal basal, and ventral basal). In the spinal cord, we observed only three GABAir longitudinal bands (dorsal, intermediate, and ventral). The larval pattern of GABAir neuronal populations was established by the 30-mm stage, and the same populations were observed in premetamorphic and adult lampreys. The ontogeny of GABAergic populations in the lamprey rhombencephalon and spinal cord is, in general, similar to that previously described in mouse and Xenopus. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.