To examine the distribution of synaptic vesicle antigens during development of the cerebral cortex, antibodies against synapsin I and p65 were used on sections of cat cerebral cortex between E40 and adulthood. In the adult, the layers of the cerebral cortex are immunoreactive for each of these antigens, while the white matter is free of staining. In contrast, the fetal and neonatal pattern of immunostaining is reversed: the cortical plate (future cortical layers) is devoid of immunoreactivity, while the marginal (future layer 1) and the intermediate zones (future white matter) are stained. Electron microscopic immunohistochemistry shows that immunolabeling is associated with presynaptic nerve terminals in the adult and during development. These observations suggest that during development the white matter is a transient synaptic neuropil and that a global redistribution of synapses takes place as the mature pattern of connections within the cerebral cortex emerges.