In the developing cerebral cortex, neurons are born on a predictable schedule. Here we show in mice that the essential timing mechanism is programmed within individual progenitor cells, and its expression depends solely on cell-intrinsic and environmental factors generated within the clonal lineage. Multipotent progenitor cells undergo repeated asymmetric divisions, sequentially generating neurons in their normal in vivo order: first preplate cells, including Cajal-Retzius neurons, then deep and finally superficial cortical plate neurons. As each cortical layer arises, stem cells and neuroblasts become restricted from generating earlier-born neuron types. Growth as neurospheres or in co-culture with younger cells did not restore their plasticity. Using short-hairpin RNA (shRNA) to reduce Foxg1 expression reset the timing of mid- but not late-gestation progenitors, allowing them to remake preplate neurons and then cortical-plate neurons. Our data demonstrate that neural stem cells change neuropotency during development and have a window of plasticity when restrictions can be reversed. © 2006 Nature Publishing Group.