Basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors have been identified for neurons and their precursors but not for glial cells. We have identified two bHLH factors, Oligo1 and Oligo2, that are specifically expressed in zones of neuroepithelium from which oligodendrocyte precursors emerge, as well as in the precursors themselves. Expression of Oligo2 in the spinal cord precedes that of platelet-derived growth factor receptor alpha (PDGFRalpha), the earliest known marker of oligodendrocyte precursors, by several days. Ectopic expression of Oligo2 in vivo causes ectopic expression of Sox10, an HMG-box transcription factor expressed in oligodendrocyte and other glial precursors. These data identify Oligo genes as the earliest known markers of oligodendrocyte lineage determination and suggest they play a causal role in this process.