The development of cortical axonal pathways in the human brain begins during the transition between the embryonic and fetal period, happens in a series of sequential events, and leads to the establishment of major long trajectories by the neonatal period. We have correlated histochemical markers (acetylcholinesterase (AChE) histochemistry, antibody against synaptic protein SNAP-25 (SNAP-25-immunoreactivity) and neurofilament 200) with the diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) database in order to make a reconstruction of the origin, growth pattern and termination of the pathways in the period between 8 and 34 postconceptual weeks (PCW). Histological sections revealed that the initial outgrowth and formation of joined trajectories of subcortico-frontal pathways (external capsule, cerebral stalk–internal capsule) and limbic bundles (fornix, stria terminalis, amygdaloid radiation) occur by 10 PCW. As early as 11 PCW, major afferent fibers invade the corticostriatal junction. At 13–14 PCW, axonal pathways from the thalamus and basal forebrain approach the deep moiety of the cortical plate, causing the first lamination. The period between 15 and 18 PCW is dominated by elaboration of the periventricular crossroads, sagittal strata and spread of fibers in the subplate and marginal zone. Tracing of fibers in the subplate with DTI is unsuccessful due to the isotropy of this zone. Penetration of the cortical plate occurs after 24–26 PCW. In conclusion, frontal axonal pathways form the periventricular crossroads, sagittal strata and ‘waiting’ compartments during the path-finding and penetration of the cortical plate. Histochemistry is advantageous in the demonstration of a growth pattern, whereas DTI is unique for demonstrating axonal trajectories. The complexity of fibers is the biological substrate of selective vulnerability of the fetal white matter.