Fibroblast growth factor-2 (Fgf-2 or basic Fgf) is known to promote the survival, proliferation, and differentiation of neural precursor cells. We have examined and compared the effects of Fgf-2 with those of Fgf-1, -4, -6, -7, -9, and -10, as well as three isoforms of Fgf-8 (-8a, -8b, and -8c), on the fate of cultured embryonic day 15 (E15) rat cortical cells. Clonal analysis, using retroviral tagging, shows that only Fgf-2, -4, and -8b can efficiently promote the survival of cortical precursor cells, the majority of which give rise to neurons. Surprisingly, and in contrast to other Fgfs, Fgf-8b also promotes astroglial differentiation of a subpopulation of these cells, which would otherwise appear to yield neurons. We also show that E15 cortical cells initially express the IIIc isoforms of Fgf-receptors (R-1,-2, and -3 but within 16 h of culturing they down regulate FgfR2-IIIc. These studies demonstrate that cortical precursor cells respond to Fgf stimulation in different ways depending on the ligand and by inference the Fgf receptors activated.