Oligodendrocyte progenitors originate near the floor plate of the spinal cord, then proliferate and migrate throughout the cord before giving rise to oligodendrocytes. Progenitor cell proliferation stops before birth because the cell cycle slows down, linked to an increase in differentiation and death. Experiments with transgenic mice show that platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) drives progenitor cell division and suggest that slowing of and exit from the cycle reflects a decline in PDGF signaling. Overexpressing PDGF induces hyperproliferation of progenitor cells and excessive, ectopic production of oligodendrocytes. However, the superfluous oligodendrocytes die at an immature stage of differentiation, leaving a normal complement of myelin-forming cells. Therefore, cell survival controls override proliferation controls for determining the final number and distribution of mature oligodendrocytes.