Most in vitro studies in the CNS require pure cultures of astrocytes. Astrocytes from the human optic nerve head (ONH, type 1B) represent a specialized population of astrocytes. Primary cells grown from human optic nerve head explants were cultured for 3-4 weeks. To select astrocytes by immunopanning, cell suspensions were placed on a P100 panning dish coated with C5 anti-neuroepithelial antibody and allowed to attach for 30 min. Nonadherent cells were plated on a second dish coated with anti-Thy1.1 antibody to deplete microglia and meningeal cells. Finally, remnant nonadherent cells were plated on a noncoated dish. Purified cells were immunostained with astrocyte markers: GFAP, vimentin, Pax2, A2B5, nestin and NCAM. Other cell types were characterized by HLA-DR for microglia and smooth muscle actin for vascular smooth muscle. The proportion of GFAP+ astrocytes in the cultures was determined by flow cytometry. About 95% of the cells that adhered to the C5 dish were GFAP+ astrocytes. GFAP+ astrocytes expressed vimentin, Pax2, nestin and NCAM, but not A2B5. From the Thy1.1 dish, 60-75% cells were GFAP+ astrocytes and the remainder cells were GFAP- cells. Using cloning rings, we eliminated fibroblast-like cells, smooth muscle and meningeal cells from astrocyte cultures. Smooth muscle cells and fibroblasts grew on the noncoated dish. In conclusion, immunopanning is an efficient method to get high yields of viable type 1B astrocytes from adult human ONH. The current described culture system may provide a valuable tool in studying human optic nerve head biology and disease.