We analyzed whether the embryonic (E12.5–E14.5) mouse retina possesses genuine neural stem cells and how they respond to defined growth factors and extracellular matrix molecules. Whereas most combinations produced no or limited cell survival and proliferation in culture, FGF-2 plus heparin and laminin stimulated proliferation and the formation of aggregates composed, after two days, of 95.2% nestin-positive cells. However, cells in these aggregates could only be passaged poorly, lost nestin expression and proliferative capacity, and differentiated into neurons. Under the same conditions, olfactory bulb precursor cells divided efficiently and could be expanded. These data suggest that, in addition to FGF-2 and laminin, embryonic retinal neuroepithelial cells need additional extrinsic and/or intrinsic regulators to maintain cell proliferation and self-renewal.