Multipotential CNS stem cells receive and implement instructions governing differentiation to diverse neuronal and glial fates. Exploration of the mechanisms generating the many cell types of the brain depends crucially on markers identifying the stem cell state. We describe a gene whose expression distinguishes the stem cells from the more differentiated cells in the neural tube. This gene was named nestin because it is specifically expressed in neuroepithelial stem cells. The predicted amino acid sequence of the nestin gene product shows that nestin defines a distinct sixth class of intermediate filament protein. These observations extend a model in which transitions in intermediate filament gene expression reflect major steps in the pathway of neural differentiation.