The climbing fibre projection from the motor cortex to the cerebellar cortical C1 zone in the posterior lobe of the rat cerebellum was investigated using a combination of physiological, anatomical and neuropharmacological techniques. Electrical stimulation of the ipsilateral fore- or hindimbs or somatotopically corresponding parts of the contralateral motor cortex evoked climbing fibre field potentials at the same cerebellar recording sites. Forelimb-related responses were located in the C1 zone in the paramedian lobule or lobulus simplex and hindlimb-related responses were located in the C1 zone in the copula pyramidis. Microinjections of anterograde axonal tracer (Fluoro-Ruby or Fluoro-Emerald) were made into the fore- or hindlimb parts of the motor cortex where stimulation evoked the largest cerebellar responses. After a survival period of 7-10 days, the neuraxis was examined for anterograde labelling. No terminal labelling was ever found in the inferior olive, but labelled terminals were consistently found in a well-localized site in the dorso-medial medulla, ventral to the gracile nucleus, termed the matrix region. Pharmacological inactivation of the matrix region (2 mm caudal to the obex) selectively reduced transmission in descending (cerebro-olivocerebellar) but not ascending (spino-olivocerebellar) paths targeting fore- or hindlimb-receiving parts of the C1 zone. Transmission in spino-olivocerebellar paths was either unaffected, or in some cases increased. The identification of a novel pre-olivary relay in cerebro-olivocerebellar paths originating from fore- and hindlimb motor cortex has implications for the regulation of transmission in climbing fibre pathways during voluntary movements and motor learning. © 2006 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2006 The Physiological Society.