Stem cells are undifferentiated cells defined by their ability to self-renew and differentiate to progenitors and terminally differentiated cells. Stem cells have been isolated from almost all tissues, and an emerging idea is that they share common characteristics such as the presence of ATP-binding cassette transporter G2 and high telomerase and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity, raising the hypothesis of a set of universal stem cell markers. In the present study, we describe the isolation of primitive neural stem cells (NSCs) from adult and embryonic murine neurospheres and dissociated tissue, based on the expression of high levels of ALDH activity. Single-cell suspension was stained with a fluorescent ALDH substrate termed Aldefluor and then analyzed by flow cytometry. A population of cells with low side scatter (SSC(lo)) and bright ALDH (ALDH(br)) activity was isolated. SSC(lo)ALDH(br) cells are capable of self-renewal and are able to generate new neurospheres and neuroepithelial stem-like cells. Furthermore, these cells are multipotent, differentiating both in neurons and macroglia, as determined by immunocytochemistry and real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis. To evaluate the engraftment potential of SSC(lo)ALDH(br) cells in vivo, we transplanted them into mouse brain. Donor-derived neurons with mature morphology were detected in the cortex and subcortical areas, demonstrating the capacity of this cell population to differentiate appropriately in vivo. The ALDH expression assay is an effective method for direct identification of NSCs, and improvement of the stem cell isolation protocol may be useful in the development of a cell-mediated therapeutic strategy for neurodegenerative diseases.