Changes in intermediate filament gene expression occur at key steps in the differentiation of cell types in the mammalian CNS. Neuroepithelial stem cells express the intermediate filament protein nestin and down-regulate it sharply at the transition from proliferating stem cell to postmitotic neuron. Nestin is also expressed in muscle precursors but not in mature muscle cells. We show here that in transgenic mice, independent cell type-specific elements in the first and second introns of the nestin gene consistently direct reporter gene expression to developing muscle and neural precursors, respectively. The second intron contains an enhancer that functions in CNS stem cells, suggesting that there may be a single transcriptional mechanism regulating the CNS stem cell state. This enhancer is much less active in the PNS. The identification of these elements facilitates analysis of mechanisms controlling the switch in gene expression that occurs when muscle and brain precursors terminally differentiate.