In the vertebrate central nervous system (CNS), diverse cellular types are generated in response to inductive signals provided by specialized cellular groups that act as organizing centers. The roof plate is a critical dorsal signaling center that occupies the dorsal midline of the developing CNS along its entire anterior-posterior axis. During caudal neural tube development, the roof plate produces proteins of the Bmp and Wnt families controlling proliferation, specification, migration, and axon guidance of adjacent dorsal interneurons. Although primarily investigated in the developing spinal cord, a growing number of studies indicate that roof plate-derived signals are also critical for the patterning of dorsal structures in more rostral regions of CNS including the hindbrain, diencephalon and telencephalon. In this review, we discuss recent progress towards understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms of roof plate-dependent patterning of the dorsal CNS.