The relatively simple central nervous system (CNS) of the Drosophila embryo provides a useful model system for investigating the mechanisms that generate and pattern complex nervous systems. Central to the generation of different types of neurons by precursor neuroblasts is the initial specification of neuroblast identity and the Drosophila segment polarity genes, genes that specify regions within a segment or repeating unit of the Drosophila embryo, have emerged recently as significant players in this process. During neurogenesis the segment polarity genes are expressed in the neuroectodermal cells from which neuroblasts delaminate and they continue to be expressed in neuroblasts and their progeny. Loss-of-function mutations in these genes lead to a failure in the formation of neuroblasts and/or specification of neuroblast identity. Results from several recent studies suggest that regulatory interactions between segment polarity genes during neurogenesis lead to an increase in the number of neuroblasts and specification of different identities to neuroblasts within a population of cells.