The gliomas are a collection of tumors that arise within the central nervous system and have characteristics similar to astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, or their precursors. Whether or not the glial characteristics of these tumors mean that they arise from the differentiated glia that they resemble or their precursors has been debated. Even under normal circumstances the cells within the central nervous system of an adult can trans-differentiate to other cell types. In addition, mutations found in gliomas further destabilize the differentiation status of these cells making a determination of what cell type gives rise to a given tumor histology difficult. Lineage tracing studies in animals can be used to correlate some specific cell characteristics with the histology of gliomas that arise from these cells. From these experiments it appears that undifferentiated cells are more sensitive to the oncogenic effects of certain signaling abnormalities than are differentiated cells, but that with the appropriate genetic abnormalities differentiated astrocytes can act as the cell-of-origin for gliomas. These data imply that small molecules that promote differentiation may be a rational component of glioma therapy in combination with other drugs aimed at specific molecular signaling targets.