Neural stem cells (NSCs) are multipotential progenitor cells that have self-renewal activities. A single NSC is capable of generating various kinds of cells within the central nervous system (CNS), including neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. Because of these characteristics, there is increasing interest in NSCs and neural progenitor cells from the aspects of both basic developmental biology and therapeutic applications to the damaged brain. This special issue, dedicated to understanding the nature of the NSCs present in the CNS, presents an introduction to several avenues of research that may lead to feasible strategies for manipulating cells in situ to treat the damaged brain. The topics covered by these studies include the extracellular factors and signal transduction cascades involved in the differentiation and maintenance of NSCs, the population dynamics and locations of NSCs in embryonic and adult brains, prospective identification and isolation of NSCs, the induction of NSCs to adopt particular neuronal phenotypes, and their transplantation into the damaged CNS. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.