Stem cells play an essential role during the processes of embryonic tissue formation and development and in the maintenance of tissue integrity and renewal throughout adulthood. The differentiation potential of stem cells in adult tissues has been thought to be limited to cell lineages present in the organ from which they derive, but there is evidence that somatic stem cells may display a broader differentiation repertoire. This has been documented for bone marrow stem cells (which can give rise to muscle, hepatic and brain cells) and for muscle precursors, which can turn into blood cells. The adult central nervous system (CNS) has long been considered incapable of cell renewal and structural remodeling. Recent findings indicate that, even in postnatal and adult mammals, neurogenesis does occur in different brain regions and that these regions actually contain adult stem cells. These cells can be expanded both in vivo and ex vivo by exposure to different combinations of growth factors and subsequently give rise to a differentiated progeny comprising the major cell types of the CNS. Almost paradoxically, adult neural stem cells display a multipotency much broader than expected, since they can differentiate into non-CNS mesodermal-derivatives, such as blood cells and skeletal muscle cells. We review the recent findings documenting this unforeseen plasticity and unexpected developmental potential of somatic stem cells in general and of neural stem cells in particular. To better introduce these concepts, some basic notions on the functional properties of adult neural stem cells will also be discussed, particularly focusing on the emerging role of the microenvironment in determining and maintaining their peculiar characteristics.