Injury to oligodendrocyte processes, the structures responsible for myelination, is implicated in many forms of brain disorder. Here we show NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor subunit expression on oligodendrocyte processes, and the presence of NMDA receptor subunit messenger RNA in isolated white matter. NR1, NR2A, NR2B, NR2C, NR2D and NR3A subunits showed clustered expression in cell processes, but NR3B was absent. During modelled ischaemia, NMDA receptor activation resulted in rapid Ca2+-dependent detachment and disintegration of oligodendroglial processes in the white matter of mice expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) specifically in oligodendrocytes (CNP-GFP mice). This effect occurred at mouse ages corresponding to both the initiation and the conclusion of myelination. NR1 subunits were found mainly in oligodendrocyte processes, whereas AMPA (alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionic acid)/kainate receptor subunits were mainly found in the somata. Consistent with this observation, injury to the somata was prevented by blocking AMPA/kainate receptors, and preventing injury to oligodendroglial processes required the blocking of NMDA receptors. The presence of NMDA receptors in oligodendrocyte processes explains why previous studies that have focused on the somata have not detected a role for NMDA receptors in oligodendrocyte injury. These NMDA receptors bestow a high sensitivity to acute injury and represent an important new target for drug development in a variety of brain disorders.