Synaptogenesis was studied in the monoamine (MA) cell groups locus coeruleus (LC), dorsal and medial raphe nuclei (RN) and substantia nigra, zona compacta (SN) between day 18 of gestation and postnatal day 60 using ethanolic phosphotungstic acid (E-PTA) to visualize synaptic profiles. Nuclear area, and cellular packing density (inversely proportional to area of neuropil) were also determined. As determined using the E-PTA method, synaptogenesis begins in the neuropil of the SN first, on or before 18 days of gestation, and in the LC and RN at 19 days. Synaptogenesis on MA cell perikarya is first observed in the SN, on or before 18 days, and in the LC and RN at 20 days. The onset of somatic synaptogenesis coincides with the beginning of nuclear growth and development of the neuropil (decrease in cellular packing density) in all MA cell areas, raising the possibility of common factors in the initiation of these processes. Nonsynaptic contacts precede the appearance of synaptic profiles both in the neuropil and on the somata of the MA cells of the LC, RN and SN, and may represent precursors of mature synapses or desmosome-like contacts. Somatosomatic nonsynaptic contacts occur only prenatally between adjacent MA neurons in the LC, RN and SN. Although some synaptogenesis occurs prenatally in these MA cell groups (indiciating that these parts of the MA circuitry may be functional before birth), most of this synaptogenesis occurs postnatally and continues into adulthood. Since such synaptogenesis does not begin until 2-4 days prior to birth, whereas these neurons and their processes exhibit MA fluorescence as early as 12-14 days of gestation, they apparently are capable of synthesizing transmitter and proliferating terminals before they themselves are innervated.