THE neurons of layer 4 in the adult cerebral cortex receive their major ascending inputs from the thalamus. In development, however, thalamic axons arrive at the appropriate cortical area long before their target layer 4 neurons have migrated into the cortical plate. The axons accumulate and wait in the zone below the cortical plate, the subplate, for several weeks before invading the cortical plate. The subplate is a transient zone that contains the first postmitotic neurons of the telencephalon. These neurons mature well before other cortical neurons, and disappear by cell death after the thalamic axons have grown into the overlying cortical plate. The close proximity of growing thalamocortical axons and subplate neurons suggests that they might be involved in interactions important for normal thalamocortical development. Here we show that early in development the deletion of subplate neurons located beneath visual cortex prevents axons from the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus from recognizing and innervating visual cortex, their normal target. In the absence of subplate neurons, lateral geniculate nucleus axons continue to grow in the white matter past visual cortex despite the presence of their target layer 4 neurons. Thus the transient subplate neurons are necessary for appropriate cortical target selection by thalamocortical axons.