We have established a new permanent cell line (OLN-93), derived from spontaneously transformed cells in primary rat brain glial cultures. In growth medium supplemented with 10% fetal calf serum a doubling time of 16-18 hr was determined. OLN-93 cells in their antigenic properties resemble primary oligodendrocytes in culture. As analyzed by indirect immunofluorescence, the A2B5 surface marker is absent, they express galactocerebroside and myelin-specific proteins, such as myelin basic protein (MBP), myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG), proteolipidprotein (PLP), and Wolfgram protein (WP), but do not exhibit astrocytic properties, such as the expression of vimentin or the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). In their morphological features they resemble bipolar O-2A-progenitor cells and, when grown at low density or on poly-L-lysine-coated culture dishes under low serum conditions, immature oligodendrocytes with a more arborized cell morphology. The cellular processes contain microfilaments, while N-CAM/D2 immunoreactivity is localized on the cell surface of the somata and processes. Immunoblot analysis further confirmed the presence of MAG, WP and MBP immunoreactivity, and the absence of vimentin and GFAP. Only a single MBP isoform (approximately 14 kDa) was detectable in the cellular extracts. PLP mRNA expression was studied by RT-PCR. The two proteolipid-specific mRNAs, DM20 and PLP, were present in OLN-93 cell extracts. Comparisons with embryonic rat cerebral cells in culture and primary oligodendrocytes suggest that OLN-93 cells in their morphological features and their antigenic properties resemble 5- to 10-day-old (postnatal time) cultured rat brain oligodendrocytes. Thus, the new cell line described in this study should provide a useful model system to investigate the specific mechanisms regulating the proliferation and differentiation of oligodendrocytes in vitro, and the molecular interactions with other cells of the nervous system.