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The transient fetal subplate zone, together with the marginal zone and the cortical plate, represents the developmental anlage of the mammalian cerebral cortex. It serves as a waiting compartment for growing cortical afferents; its cells are involved in the establishment of pioneering cortical efferent projections and transient fetal circuitry, and apparently have a number of other developmental roles. The subplate zone is a phylogenetically recent structure and it is most developed in the human brain.
Subplate neurons are among the first generated neurons in the mammalian cerebral cortex . These neurons disappear during postnatal development and are important in establishing the correct wiring  and functional maturation  of the cerebral cortex. Subplate neurons appear to be selectively sensitive to injury (such as hypoxia) which in humans are associated with motor and cognitive defects .
Subplate neurons are the first cortical neurons to receive synaptic inputs from thalamic axons, establishing a temporary link between thalamic axons and their final target in layer 4. . Later, thalamic axons invade layer 4 where they innervate layer 4 neurons. In the visual system thalamic axons to layer 4 form ocular dominance columns and this segregation of thalamic axons is impaired if subplate neurons are missing .
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- ^ McConnell SK, Ghosh A, Shatz CJ (September 1989). Subplate neurons pioneer the first axon pathway from the cerebral cortex. Science 245 (4921): 978–82.
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- ^ McQuillen PS, Ferriero DM (July 2005). Perinatal subplate neuron injury: implications for cortical development and plasticity. Brain Pathol. 15 (3): 250–60.
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