Primitive neuroectodermal tumours are amongst the most common paediatric tumours of the central nervous system. These tumours are composed of undifferentiated cells and a variable component of more differentiated cell types. Most analysis of these tumours has focused on molecules normally found in the differentiated cells or those found in all primitive neuronal precursors. In this article we describe recent advances in understanding of the molecular processes involved in normal neurogenesis. We discuss the relevance of these data to the biology of neuronal tumours and describe strategies we and others have adopted to investigate the usefulness of molecules found in undifferentiated neuronal tissues in understanding the events which underlie oncogenesis in this tumour type.