The concept of stem-cell plasticity received strong support from a recent observation that extensively passaged, clonally derived neural stem cells could contribute to hematopoiesis. We investigated whether hematopoietic potential was a consistent or unusual feature of neural stem cells, and whether it depended on the extent of in vitro passaging before transplantation. Here we transplanted over 128 x 10(6) neurosphere cells into 128 host animals; however, we never observed contribution to hematopoiesis, irrespective of the number of passages and despite the use of an assay that could detect the contribution of a single blood stem cell to hematopoietic repopulation. Although extensively cultured neurosphere cells continued to generate neural progeny, marked changes in their growth properties occurred, including changes in growth-factor dependence, cell-cycle kinetics, cell adhesion and gene expression. Our results exclude hematopoietic competence as a consistent property of intravenously infused neural stem cells. However, the consistent changes that occurred during extended passaging are compatible with genetic or epigenetic alterations and suggest that rare transformation events may account for the neural-to-blood fate switch originally reported.