Emerging studies have revealed new roles for the neural extracellular matrix in neuropathologies. The structure of this matrix is unusual and uniquely enriched in chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, particularly those of the lectican family. Historically, lecticans have attracted considerable interest in the normal and injured brain for their prominent roles as inhibitors of cellular motility, neurite extension and synaptic plasticity. However, these molecules are structurally heterogeneous, have distinct expression patterns and mediate unique interactions, suggesting that they might have other functions in addition to their traditional role as chemorepulsants. Here, we review recent work demonstrating unique modifications and structural microheterogeneity of the lecticans in the diseased CNS, which might relate to novel roles of these molecules in neuropathologies.