Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are important regulators of intracellular signaling. We examined the expression of ROS during rat brain development and explored their role in differentiation using cortical cultures. High levels of ROS were found in newborn neurons. Neurons produced ROS, not connected with cell death, throughout embryogenesis and postnatal stages. By P20, ROS-producing cells were found only in neurogenic regions. Cells with low levels of ROS, isolated from E15 brains by FACS, differentiated into neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes in clonal cultures. Neurons produced high ROS early in culture and later differentiated into two types: large pyramidal-like neurons that fired no or only a single action potential and smaller neurons that expressed nuclear calretinin and fired repeated action potentials. Antioxidant treatment did not alter neuron number but increased the ratio of small to large neurons. These findings suggest that modulation of ROS levels influences multiple aspects of neuronal differentiation.