Two major classes of early-born neurons are distinguished during early corticogenesis in the rat. The first class is formed by the cortical pioneer neurons, which are born in the ventricular neuroepithelium all over the cortical primordium. They appear at embryonic day (E) 11.5 in the lateral aspect of the telencephalic vesicle and cover its whole surface on E12. These cells, which show intense immunoreactivity for calbindin and calretinin, are characterized by their large size and axonal projection. They remain in the marginal zone after the formation of the cortical plate; they project first into the ventricular zone, and then into the subplate and the internal capsule. Therefore, these cells are the origin of the earliest efferent pathway of the developing cortex. Pioneer neurons are only present in prenatal brains. The second class is formed by subpial granule neurons, which form the subpial granular layer (SGL), previously considered to be found exclusively in the human cortex. SGL neurons are smaller than pioneer neurons. They are generated in a transient compartment of the retrobulbar ventricle between E12 and E14, and we propose the hypothesis that they invade the marginal zone, through tangential subpial migration, at different moments of fetal life. SGL neurons contain calbindin, calretinin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), but the GABA-immunoreactive group becomes inconspicuous before birth. The extracellular matrix-like glycoprotein reelin, a molecule crucial for cortical lamination, is prenatally expressed by SGL neurons; postnatally, it is present in both Cajal-Retzius cells and subpial pyriform cells, both derivatives of SGL cells. In the rat, Cajal-Retzius cells are horizontal neurons that remain only until the end of the first postnatal week. They are located in layer I at a critical distance of approximately 20 microm from the pial surface and express reelin and, only occasionally, calretinin. Subpial pyriform cells coexpress reelin and calretinin and remain in layer I longer than Cajal-Retzius cells. Both pioneer neurons and subpial granule neurons are specific to the cortex. They mark the limit between the rudimentary cerebral cortex and olfactory bulb in the rat during early corticogenesis.