2',3'-cyclic-nucleotide 3'-phosphodiesterase (CNP) is an abundant protein of myelinating oligodendrocytes. We report that one of the alternatively spliced CNP mRNAs is also expressed in cultured oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. In situ hybridization revealed a thin longitudinal column of CNP-positive cells in the ventral ventricular zone of the embryonic day 14 rat spinal cord, coincident in time and space with cells that express the platelet-derived growth factor alpha receptor, another putative marker of the oligodendrocyte lineage. These data support the hypothesis that the oligodendrocyte lineage originates at a discrete location in the ventral ventricular zone of the embryonic day 14 rat spinal cord. We further report that transcripts encoding the myelin proteolipid protein (PLP/DM-20) are expressed in an unidentified population of neural progenitors in the ventricular zone abutting the floor plate. Our results support the idea that the ventricular zone is a mosaic of specialized progenitor cells.