Tumor-initiating cells with stem cell properties are believed to sustain the growth of gliomas, but proposed markers such as CD133 cannot be used to identify these cells with sufficient specificity. We report an alternative isolation method purely based on phenotypic qualities of glioma-initiating cells (GICs), avoiding the use of molecular markers. We exploited intrinsic autofluorescence properties and a distinctive morphology to isolate a subpopulation of cells (FL1(+)) from human glioma or glioma cultures. FL1(+) cells are capable of self-renewal in vitro, tumorigenesis in vivo and preferentially express stem cell genes. The FL1(+) phenotype did not correlate with the expression of proposed GIC markers. Our data propose an alternative approach to investigate tumor-initiating potential in gliomas and to advance the development of new therapies and diagnostics.