Proglucagon-derived glucagon-like peptide-2 (GLP-2) is liberated in enteroendocrine cells and neurons. GLP-2 regulates energy absorption and epithelial integrity in the gastrointestinal tract, whereas GLP-2 action in the central nervous system remains poorly defined. We identified proglucagon and GLP-2 receptor (GLP-2R) mRNA transcripts by RT-PCR in multiple regions of the developing and adult rat central nervous system. GLP-2R mRNA transcripts were localized by in situ hybridization to the hippocampus, hypothalamus, nucleus of the solitary tract, parabrachial nucleus, supramammillary nucleus, and substantia nigra. The bioactive form of GLP-2, GLP-2-(1-33) was detected by RIA and HPLC analysis in the fetal and adult brainstem and hypothalamus. GLP-2 stimulated increases in cAMP accumulation in postnatal d 8, but not embryonic d 14, dispersed neonatal rat brainstem tissues. The actions of GLP-2 were independent of the GLP-1R antagonist exendin-(9-39), and GLP-2 stimulated cAMP accumulation in hippocampal cell cultures from both wild-type and GLP-1R(-/-) mice. GLP-2 significantly reduced glutamate-induced excitotoxic injury in hippocampal cells via a protein kinase A-dependent pathway, but had no effect on the rate of cell proliferation. These findings establish the presence of a functional GLP-2-GLP-2R axis in the developing rodent brain and demonstrate that GLP-2 exerts cytoprotective actions in cells derived from the central nervous system.