The applicability of antisense technology to suppress the expression of myelin associated glycoprotein (MAG) in cultured oligodendrocytes was evaluated. Differentiating oligodendrocyte precursor cells obtained by the shake-off method were exposed to nine unmodified antisense oligodeoxynucleotides (ODNs) targeted to the first seven exons of MAG mRNA. After four days, steady-state levels of MAG, proteolipid protein (PLP) and basic protein (BP) mRNAs were determined by Northern blot analysis. Only ODN annealing to 599-618 nt of the MAG mRNA (the junction of exon 5 and 6) resulted in a significant, 75% decrease in the MAG mRNA level. Unexpectedly, six other anti-MAG ODNs which had no significant effect on the MAG message, greatly increased the level of BP mRNA. The highest upregulation of approximately 12 fold was observed with ODN annealing to 139-168 nt (junction of exon 3 and 4). On the other hand, the 997-1016 ODN decreased the levels of BP and PLP messages by 70-80%. The 599-618 ODN also decreased the PLP mRNA by 85%. The results demonstrate that antisense ODNs targeted to one gene may profoundly alter the expression of other genes, and hence, complicate functional analysis of the targeted protein.