Similar to embryonic forebrain, the embryonic mesencephalon contains Fibroblast Growth Factor 2 (FGF2)- and Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF)-responsive progenitors that can be isolated as neurospheres. Developmentally, the FGF2-responsive population appears first and is thought to give rise to EGF-responsive neural stem cells. It is not known whether following this developmental switch of growth factor responsiveness ventral mesencephalic (VM)-derived neural stem cells display distinct region-specific properties. We found that murine VM- and dorsal mesencephalic (DM)-derived primary neurospheres isolated with EGF at embryonic day 14.5 differed with respect to neurosphere formation efficacy and size. VM- but not DM-derived spheres expressed En 1, the molecular marker of isthmic organizer, and contained transcripts of BDNF, FGF2, IGF-1 and NT-3. Both VM and DM primary neurospheres were self-renewing and gave rise to astroglial cells, but 20% of VM spheres also generated neurons. According to in vitro properties, DM- and majority of VM-derived EGF-responsive progenitors represent glial precursors. VM- but not DM-derived primary neurospheres enriched their respective conditioned medium with factors that promoted the survival of dopaminergic neurons in vitro, suggesting that ventral mesencephalic EGF-responsive progenitors are endowed with the potential to provide trophic support to nearby nascent dopaminergic neurons. These data may have implications in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. (c) 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.