Reelin, the protein defective in reeler mutant mice, is a secreted glycoprotein involved in the architectonic development of the central nervous system, more particularly in the development of neocortical lamination. In mice, reelin mRNA and protein expression are most robust in horizontal neurons of the embryonic marginal zone (MZ). By using monoclonal anti-reelin antibodies (de Bergeyck et al.  J. Neurosci. Methods), the morphology and evolution of reelin-expressing neurons were studied in the MZ of the prenatal human neocortex. At 11 gestational weeks (GW), the MZ contained a single layer of reelin-positive mono- or bipolar horizontal Cajal-Retzius (CR) cells. From 14 GW onward, the subpial granular layer (SGL) invaded the MZ, forming a transient layer of undifferentiated, initially reelin-negative granule cells. In parallel to the emergence of the SGL and the morphological differentiation of the CR cells, a second population of reelin-positive cells appeared within the SGL. These cells, termed CR-like cells, were intermediate in size and shape between the CR cells and SGL granule cells. Between 16 GW and 24 GW, the packing density of the reelin-producing cells remained remarkably stable, despite the continuous growth of the cortical surface. During this period, CR cells settled progressively deeper within the MZ, although they remained in contact with the pial surface through radially ascending processes. Most CR cells disappeared at around 27 GW, in parallel with the dissolution of the SGL. During the last weeks of gestation, reelin was expressed by a few medium-sized, often horizontal neurons. These observations show that different neuronal populations in the human MZ express reelin and suggest that a possible function of the SGL is to supply reelin-producing cells through a gradual transformation of reelin-negative precursor cells into reelin-immunoreactive CR-like cells, thus coping with the protracted neurogenesis and dramatic surface expansion of the human neocortex.