Recent studies reporting trans-differentiation of mononucleated cells derived from human umbilical cord blood into neuronal cells aroused interest among investigators for their clinical implication and significance in regenerative medicine. In the present study, purified populations of hematopoietic stem cells were isolated via magnetic bead sorting and fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS) using a specific CD133 antibody, a cell type-specific marker for hematopoietic stem cells, and grown in culture in the presence of retinoic acid (RA). CD133+ hematopoietic stem cells expressed neuronal and glial phenotypes after RA treatment. RT-PCR analysis indicated that the RA treated CD133+ cells expressed mRNA transcripts for ATP-binding cassettes transporter ABCG2 (a universal stem cell marker), nestin (a specific cell type marker for neural stem cells), Musashi1 (a specific marker for neural stem cells) and RA receptors (RAR) including RAR-α, RAR-β, and retinoid X receptor (RXR)-γ. RA-treated CD133+ cells expressed mRNA transcripts for neuron-specific markers neurofilament proteins (NF-L, -M, -H) and synaptophysin as determined by RT-PCR, structural proteins characteristic of neurons including tubulin β III and neuron specific enolase (NSE) by Western blot, and neuron-specific markers NeuN and microtubule-associated protein-2 (MAP2) by immunocytochemistry. RA-treated CD133+ cells also expressed the astrocyte-specific marker glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), as demonstrated by RT-PCR, Western blot, and immunocytochemistry. In addition, RA-treated CD133+ cells expressed cell type-specific markers for oligodendrocytes including myelin basic protein (MBP) as shown by RT-PCR, proteolipid protein (PLP) by Western blot analysis, and cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase (CNPase) by immunostaining. Upregulated expression of several basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors important for early neurogenesis, including Otx2, Pax6, Wnt1, Olig2, Hash1 and NeuroD1, was also demonstrated in CD133+ cells after RA treatment. These results indicate that human cord blood-derived CD133+ hematopoietic stem cells could trans-differentiate into neural cell types of neuron-like cells, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes by RA treatment. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.