Transforming growth factor alpha (TGFalpha) is a member of the epidermal growth factor (EGF) family with which it shares the same receptor, the EGF receptor (EGFR or erbB1). Identified since 1985 in the central nervous system (CNS), its functions in this organ have started to be determined during the past decade although numerous questions remain unanswered. TGFalpha is widely distributed in the nervous system, both glial and neuronal cells contributing to its synthesis. Although astrocytes appear as its main targets, mediating in part TGFalpha effects on different neuronal populations, results from different studies have raised the possibility for a direct action of this growth factor on neurons. A large array of experimental data have thus pointed to TGFalpha as a multifunctional factor in the CNS. This review is an attempt to present, in a comprehensive manner, the very diverse works performed in vitro and in vivo which have provided evidences for (i) an intervention of TGFalpha in the control of developmental events such as neural progenitors proliferation/cell fate choice, neuronal survival/differentiation, and neuronal control of female puberty onset, (ii) its role as a potent regulator of astroglial metabolism including astrocytic reactivity, (iii) its neuroprotective potential, and (iv) its participation to neuropathological processes as exemplified by astroglial neoplasia. In addition, informations regarding the complex modes of TGFalpha action at the molecular level are provided, and its place within the large EGF family is precised with regard to the potential interactions and substitutions which may take place between TGFalpha and its kindred.