For many years the mammalian CNS has been seen as an organ that is unable to regenerate. However, it was also long known that lower vertebrate species are capable of impressive regeneration of CNS structures. How did this situation arise through evolution? Increasing cellular and molecular understanding of regeneration in different animal species coupled with studies of adult neurogenesis in mammals is providing a basis for addressing this question. Here we compare CNS regeneration among vertebrates and speculate on how this ability may have emerged or been restricted.