The brain was long considered an organ that underwent very little change after development. It is now well established that the mammalian central nervous system contains neural stem cells that generate progeny that are capable of making new neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes throughout life. The field has advanced rapidly as it strives to understand the basic biology of these precursor cells, and explore their potential to promote brain repair. The purpose of this review is to present current knowledge about the diversity of neural stem cells in vitro and in vivo, and highlight distinctions between neural stem cell populations, throughout development, and within the niche. A comprehensive understanding of neural stem cell heterogeneity will provide insights into the cellular and molecular regulation of neural development and lifelong neurogenesis, and will guide the development of novel strategies to promote regeneration and neural repair.