Among the first postmitotic cells of the cerebral cortex is a special population located below the cortical plate: the subplate neurons. These neurons reach a high degree of morphological maturity during fetal life, well before the neurons of the cortical layers have matured, yet nearly all of these cells die after birth in the cat. Subplate neurons are also known to receive synaptic contacts. Here we have investigated whether these contacts are functional by making intracellular recordings from subplate neurons in cortical slices maintained in vitro. Subplate neurons were identified based on their location and morphology by injecting them with biocytin following the intracellular recordings. At all ages studied between embryonic day 50 and postnatal day 9, electrical stimulation of the optic radiations elicited EPSPs and synaptic and antidromic spikes in subplate neurons, indicating that some of the synapses seen at the ultrastructural level are indeed capable of synaptic transmission. The spiking patterns of 39 morphologically identified subplate neurons were examined by injecting depolarizing current, which revealed that a large majority gave only a single spike or a brief train of spikes in response to maintained depolarization, in contrast to the regular spiking pattern found in many neurons of adult cortex. Biocytin injections into subplate neurons revealed that they are a morphologically heterogeneous population with respect to their dendritic branching patterns; roughly half were inverted pyramids, the classic subplate neuron morphology. The axonal processes of subplate neurons were remarkable in that many not only arborized within the subplate, but also entered the cortical plate and terminated in the marginal zone. At early postnatal ages, these axons also gave off collaterals within cortical layer 4. The results of this study indicate that subplate neurons participate in synaptic microcircuits during development. While the presynaptic identity of the input to subplate neurons is not known conclusively, it is likely that geniculocortical axons, which wait in close proximity to subplate neurons, contribute significantly. The pattern of axonal branching of subplate neurons also implies that information conferred to subplate neurons may be relayed, in turn, to the neurons of cortical layer 4. Finally with the death of subplate neurons, the geniculocortical axons leave the subplate and invade the cortical plate to innervate directly the neurons of layer 4. Thus, subplate neurons may function as a crucial, but transient synaptic link between waiting geniculocortical axons and their ultimate target cells in the cortex.