Newborn rat glial cells in primary culture contain an active cholesterol side chain cleavage cytochrome P450. Cholesterol can be supplied either by biosynthesis or derive from low density lipoproteins (LDL), which bind apolipoprotein Band E (apoB,E) (LDL)-receptors and undergo receptor-mediated endocytosis. Using antibodies to purified human plasma LDL and antibodies to bovine adreno-cortical LDL-receptor, the presence of LDL-receptors was demonstrated on rat glial cells after 3-4 weeks of primary culture, by ligand blotting, immunoblotting, and indirect immunofluorescence staining. The latter approach indicated that oligodendrocytes express higher levels of LDL-receptors than astrocytes present in the same culture. The immunofluorescence staining was observed not only at the cell surface, but also within the cytoplasm, suggesting that the LDL-receptor complexes had been internalized. Western blotting of LDL-receptors extracted from glial cells indicated a band of approximately 130 kDa, the size expected for intact receptors. Their functionality was shown by the conversion of [3H]cholesterol linoleate, incorporated into reconstituted LDL and added to the cell cultures, to [3H]pregnenolone and/or its 20 alpha-hydroxy-metabolite. This is the first characterization of functional LDL-receptors on isolated, well characterized, normal brain cells.