The earliest-generated neurons of the cat cerebral cortex have been studied here during development using a combination of 3H-thymidine birthdating with immunohistochemistry for the neuron-specific protein MAP2 or for several neuropeptides/transmitters. These neurons are the first postmitotic cells of the cortex, with birthdates during the 1-week period preceding the genesis of cells of the adult cerebral cortex (Luskin and Shatz, 1985a; Chun et al., 1987). However, they are transient and the majority disappear by adulthood (Luskin and Shatz, 1985a; Chun and Shatz, 1989). When autoradiographic birthdating is combined with MAP2 immunostaining during fetal life, the entire population of these early-generated neurons appears to be stained, resulting in labeled bands above and below the cortical plate. The band above the cortical plate (in the marginal zone) contains early-generated neurons with horizontal morphologies, while the thicker band beneath the cortical plate (within the intermediate zone) contains the somata of early-generated neurons and their elaborate processes that are frequently directed towards the ventricular surface. In view of the correspondence between the location of the early-generated neurons and the MAP2-immunostained band beneath the cortical plate, we suggest that this combined approach can be used to define accurately the subdivision of the intermediate zone known as the subplate. The early-generated neurons are also immunoreactive for GABA, neuropeptide Y (NPY), somatostatin (SRIF), and cholecystokinin (CCK) during fetal life. While GABA, NPY, and SRIF immunostaining could be detected by embryonic day 50 (E50), that for CCK was not found until E60. Moreover, there is a relationship between neuropeptide immunoreactivity and location within the cerebral wall. The marginal-zone neurons are immunoreactive only for CCK. The subplate neurons are immunoreactive for CCK, SRIF, and NPY. Most of those immunoreactive for SRIF tend to be clustered within the upper part of the subplate, while those immunoreactive for NPY tend to be located more deeply. Cells immunoreactive for GABA are more uniformly distributed throughout the cerebral wall. These observations demonstrate directly that the marginal zone and subplate contain peptide- and GABA-immunoreactive neurons that belong to the earliest-generated cell population of the cerebral cortex. The presence of these early-generated neurons, which achieve a remarkable degree of maturity during fetal life, suggests that they perform an essential, yet transient, role in the development of the cerebral cortex.