The extraordinary cellular heterogeneity of the mammalian nervous system has largely hindered the molecular analysis of neuronal identity and diversity. In order to uncover mechanisms involved in neuronal differentiation and diversification, we have monitored the expression profiles of individual neurons and progenitor cells collected from dissociated tissue or captured from intact slices. We demonstrate that this technique provides a sensitive and reproducible representation of the single-cell transcriptome. In the olfactory system, hundreds of transcriptional differences were identified between olfactory progenitors and mature sensory neurons, enabling us to define the large variety of signaling pathways expressed by individual progenitors at a precise developmental stage. Finally, we show that regional differences in gene expression can be predicted from transcriptional analysis of single neuronal precursors isolated by laser capture from defined areas of the developing brain.