Inosine is a purine nucleoside and is considered protective to neural cells including neurons and astrocytes against hypoxic injury. However, whether oligodendrocytes (OLs) could also be protected from hypoxia by inosine is not known. Here we investigated the effects of inosine on primarily cultured rat OLs injured by rotenone-mediated chemical hypoxia, and the mechanisms of the effects using ATP assay, MTT assay, PI-Hoechst staining, TUNEL, and immunocytochemistry. Results showed that rotenone exposure for 24 h caused cell death and impaired viability in both immature and mature OLs, while pretreatment of 10 mM inosine 30 min before rotenone administration significantly reduced cell death and improved the viability of OLs. The same concentration of inosine given 120 min after rotenone exposure also improved viability of injured mature OLs. Immunocytochemistry for nitrotyrosine and cellular ATP content examination indicated that inosine may protect OLs by providing ATP and scavenging peroxynitrite for cells. In addition, immature OLs were more susceptible to hypoxia than mature OLs; and at the similar degree of injury, inosine protected immature and mature OLs differently. Quantitative real-time PCR revealed that expression of adenosine receptors was different between these two stages of OLs. These data suggest that inosine protect OLs from hypoxic injury as an antioxidant and ATP provider, and the protective effects of inosine on OLs vary with cell differentiation, possibly due to the adenosine receptors expression profile. As OLs form myelin in the central nervous system, inosine could be used as a promising drug to treat demyelination-involved disorders.