It is widely held that the insect and vertebrate CNS evolved independently. This view is now challenged by the concept of dorsoventral axis inversion, which holds that ventral in insects corresponds to dorsal in vertebrates. Here, insect and vertebrate CNS development is compared involving embryological and molecular data. In insects and vertebrates, neurons differentiate towards the body cavity. At early stages of neurogenesis, neural progenitor cells are arranged in three longitudinal columns on either side of the midline, and NK-2/NK-2.2, ind/Gsh and msh/Msx homologs specify the medial, intermediate and lateral columns, respectively. Other pairs of regional specification genes are, however, expressed in transverse stripes in insects, and in longitudinal stripes in the vertebrates. There are differences in the regional distribution of cell types in the developing neuroectoderm. However, within a given neurogenic column in insects and vertebrates some of the emerging cell types are remarkably similar and may thus be phylogenetically old: NK-2/NK-2.2-expressing medial column neuroblasts give rise to interneurons that pioneer the medial longitudinal fascicles, and to motoneurons that exit via lateral nerve roots to then project peripherally. Lateral column neuroblasts produce, among other cell types, nerve root glia and peripheral glia. Midline precursors give rise to glial cells that enwrap outgrowing commissural axons. The midline glia also express netrin homologs to attract commissural axons from a distance.