Primary glioblastomas are subdivided into several molecular subtypes. There is an ongoing debate over the cell of origin for these tumor types where some suggest a progenitor while others argue for a stem cell origin. Even within the same molecular subgroup, and using lineage tracing in mouse models, different groups have reached different conclusions. We addressed this problem from a combined mathematical modeling and experimental standpoint. We designed a novel mathematical framework to identify the most likely cells of origin of two glioma subtypes. Our mathematical model of the unperturbed in vivo system predicts that if a genetic event contributing to tumor initiation imparts symmetric self-renewing cell division (such as PDGF overexpression), then the cell of origin is a transit amplifier. Otherwise, the initiating mutations arise in stem cells. The mathematical framework was validated with the RCAS/tv-a system of somatic gene transfer in mice. We demonstrated that PDGF-induced gliomas can be derived from GFAP-expressing cells of the subventricular zone or the cortex (reactive astrocytes), thus validating the predictions of our mathematical model. This interdisciplinary approach allowed us to determine the likelihood that individual cell types serve as the cells of origin of gliomas in an unperturbed system.