Although cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5) is closely related to other cyclin-dependent kinases, its kinase activity is detected only in the postmitotic neurons. Cdk5 expression and kinase activity are correlated with the extent of differentiation of neuronal cells in developing brain. Cdk5 purified from nervous tissue phosphorylates neuronal cytoskeletal proteins including neurofilament proteins and microtubule-associated protein tau in vitro. These findings indicate that Cdk5 may have unique functions in neuronal cells, especially in the regulation of phosphorylation of cytoskeletal molecules. We report here generation of Cdk5(-/-) mice through gene targeting and their phenotypic analysis. Cdk5(-/-) mice exhibit unique lesions in the central nervous system associated with perinatal mortality. The brains of Cdk5(-/-) mice lack cortical laminar structure and cerebellar foliation. In addition, the large neurons in the brain stem and in the spinal cord show chromatolytic changes with accumulation of neurofilament immunoreactivity. These findings indicate that Cdk5 is an important molecule for brain development and neuronal differentiation and also suggest that Cdk5 may play critical roles in neuronal cytoskeleton structure and organization.