Cancer propagating cells (CPCs) within primary central nervous system (CNS) tumors (glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), medulloblastoma (MB) and ependymoma) might be integral to tumor development and perpetuation. These cells, also known as brain cancer propagating cells (BCPCs), have the ability to self-renew and proliferate. BCPCs can initiate new tumors in mice with high efficiency and these exhibit many features that are characteristic of patient's brain tumors. Accumulating evidence suggests that BCPCs might originate from the transformation of neural stem cells (NSCs) and their progenitors. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that NSC surface markers also define BCPCs. Ultimately, treatments that include specific targeting of BCPCs might potentially be more effective at treating the entire tumor mass, translating to improved patient survival and quality of life. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.