Tenascin expression was evaluated in 21 human glioma cell lines and in normal adult tissue extracts by Western and Northern blotting. The cell lines differed in their relative expression of tenascin in the cell-associated and supernatant compartments. Glioma cell line tenascin production was not uniformly stimulated by changes in fetal bovine serum concentration in the growth media. In most glioma cell lines and normal tissue extracts, reducing Western blots and Northern blots revealed two tenascin species, respectively: a major 340 kDa polypeptide and a 9 kb RNA transcript accompanied by a less intense 250 kDa polypeptide and 7 kDa RNA species. In U-87 MG and in normal adult kidney extracts, however, the 250 kDa band and 7 kb transcript were more prominent. Quantitation of tenascin in the glioma lines revealed variable levels that were significantly higher than those in the tissue extracts.