The CD44 antigen is a proteoglycan recently implicated in several adhesion events including that of lymphocytes to endothelium. The CD44 antigen, reactive with monoclonal antibody (MAb) 44D10, has been shown previously to be expressed in normal human white matter homogenates and to be found at higher concentrations in brain homogenates of victims of multiple sclerosis (MS). The cellular localization of CD44 in human brain of normal individuals and in those afflicted with MS has now been determined. Monoclonal antibody 44D10 reacted with astrocyte-like cells in 40 microns thick paraformaldehyde-fixed sections but not in thin (6 microns) fixed sections. A double labeling experiment performed on a frozen brain section with MAb 44D10 and rabbit anti-glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), a cytoplasmic marker of astrocytes, confirmed the co-localization of these two antigens. The reactivity with brain tissue sections of a rabbit antiserum produced against lymphocyte-CD44 could be absorbed by a preparation of the CD44 glycoprotein, purified 2,100-fold from a white matter homogenate. The antiserum was shown by Western blot analysis to be specific for p80 glycoprotein in brain extracts derived from a normal and MS patients. This antibody reacted with fibrous astrocytes predominantly in white matter; staining was also noted in subependymal and subpial regions. Inhibition studies using a cellular radioimmunoassay indicated that the highest concentrations of CD44 in three MS victims were found in plaques, followed by periplaques and non-involved areas of white matter which were higher than normal white matter. Reactive astrocytes, identified in active lesions, expressed high levels of CD44 on their surfaces. Thus, CD44 is associated with astrocytes in human brain and the increased expression observed in MS brain may reflect activation and/or proliferation of astrocytes implicated in the pathogenesis of this disease.