Recent findings show that the predominant multipotent neural stem cells (NSCs) isolated from postnatal and adult mouse brain express glial fibrillary acid protein (GFAP), a protein commonly associated with astrocytes, and that primary astrocyte cultures can contain GFAP-expressing cells that act as multipotent NSCs when transferred to neurogenic conditions. The relationship of GFAP-expressing NSCs to GFAP-expressing astrocytes is unclear, but has important implications. We compared the phenotype and neurogenic potential of GFAP-expressing cells derived from different CNS regions and maintained in vitro under different conditions. Multiple labeling immunohistochemistry revealed that both primary astrocyte cultures and adherent neurogenic cultures derived from postnatal or adult periventricular tissue contained subpopulations of GFAP-expressing cells that co-expressed nestin and LeX/CD15, two molecules associated with NSCs. In contrast, GFAP-expressing cells in similar cultures prepared from adult cerebral cortex did not express detectable levels of LeX/CD15, and exhibited no neurogenic potential. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) of both primary astrocyte cultures and adherent neurogenic cultures for LeX/CD15 showed that GFAP-expressing cells competent to act as multipotent NSCs were concentrated in the LeX-positive fraction. Using neurosphere assays and a transgenic ablation strategy, we confirmed that the predominant NSCs in primary astrocyte and adherent neurogenic cultures were GFAP-expressing cells. These findings demonstrate that GFAP-expressing cells derived from postnatal and adult forebrain are heterogeneous in both molecular phenotype and neurogenic potential in vitro, and that this heterogeneity exists before exposure to neurogenic conditions. The findings provide evidence that GFAP-expressing NSCs are phenotypically and functionally distinct from non-neurogenic astrocytes. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.