NG2-glia are a substantial population of cells in the central nervous system (CNS) that can be identified by their specific expression of the NG2 chondroitin sulphate (CSPG). NG2-glia can generate oligodendrocytes, but it is unlikely this is their only function; indeed, they may be multipotent neural stem cells. Moreover, NG2-glia are a highly reactive cell type and a major function is to help form the axon growth inhibitory glial scar in response to CNS injury. The factors that regulate these diverse behaviours of NG2-glia are not fully resolved, but NG2-glia express receptors to the neurotransmitter glutamate, which has known potent effects on other glia. Here, we have examined the actions of glutamate receptor activation on NG2-glia in the rat optic nerve, a typical CNS white matter tract that does not contain neuronal cell bodies. Glutamate induces an increase in [Ca(2+)](i) in immuno-identified NG2-glia in situ and in vitro. In addition, we examined the effects of glutamate receptor activation in vivo by focal injection of the glutamate receptor agonist kainate into the optic nerve; saline was injected in controls. Changes in glial and axonal function were determined at 7 days post injection (dpi), by immunohistochemistry and electrophysiological measurement of the compound action potential (CAP). Injection of kainate resulted in a highly localized 'injury response' in NG2-glia, marked by dense labelling for NG2 at the lesion site, as compared to astrocytes, which displayed a more extensive reactive astrogliosis. Furthermore, injection of kainate resulted in an axonal conduction block. These glial and axonal changes were not observed following injection of saline vehicle. In addition, we provide evidence that endogenous glutamate induces calcium-dependent phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERK1/2), which may provide a potential mechanism by which glutamate-mediated changes in raised intracellular calcium could regulate the observed gliosis. The results provide evidence that activation of AMPA-kainate type ionotropic glutamate receptors evoke raised calcium in NG2-glia and induces an injury response in NG2-glia.