During the development of the nervous system, growing axons must traverse considerable distances to find their targets. In insects, this problem is solved in part by pioneer neurons, which lay down the first axonal pathways when distances are at a minimum. Here the existence of a similar kind of neuron in the developing mammalian telencephalon is described. These are the subplate cells, the first postmitotic neurons of the cerebral cortex. Axons from subplate neurons traverse the internal capsule and invade the thalamus early in fetal life, even before the neurons of cortical layers 5 and 6, which will form the adult subcortical projections, are generated. During postnatal life, after the adult pattern of axonal projections is firmly established, most subplate neurons disappear. These observations raise the possibility that the early axonal scaffold formed by subplate cells may prove essential for the establishment of permanent subcortical projections.