We used expression of the ganglioside A2B5 to isolate putative myelin progenitor cells from adult human central nervous system parenchyma and compared their phenotypic (expression of myelin lineage molecules) and functional (survival, proliferation) properties with mature oligodendrocytes (OLGs) derived from the same adult material and with A2B5(+) cells isolated from human fetal brain. A2B5(+) cells represented 3 to 5% of the total cell suspension derived from adult specimens. Results of protein (immunostaining) and RNA (polymerase chain reaction) analyses indicated that the adult A2B5(+) cells were more committed to the OLG lineage than their fetal counterparts while continuing to retain properties of progenitor cells compared to the postmitotic mature OLGs. Although the adult A2B5(+) cells retained the capacity to divide, albeit at a reduced rate compared to fetal A2B5(+) cells, they showed reduced survival and process outgrowth compared not only to fetal cells but also to mature OLGs. Our results confirm the presence of progenitor cells committed to the OLG lineage in the adult human central nervous system but raise the issues regarding the intrinsic capacity of these cells to contribute to the process of remyelination that may be necessary during demyelinating diseases.