In Krabbe's disease (globoid cell leukodystrophy), galactosylsphingosine (psychosine) is considered to be a causative agent of the pathology found in the nervous system of the patients. In our study, we examined the cytotoxic effect of psychosine in neural cell cultures derived from the rat nervous system. The concentration of toxic thresholds varied from cell type to cell type. The 50% of toxic doses for oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, and the sensory neurons of the dorsal root ganglia were 8, 20, and 30 micrograms/mL, respectively. Oligodendrocytes, therefore, appeared to show a higher sensitivity to psychosine than did astrocytes or neurons. When phorbol ester or DMSO was applied simultaneously with psychosine as protective agents in enriched cultures of rat oligodendrocytes, the total number of live cells and galactocerebroside-positive cells and the 2'3'-cyclic nucleotide 3'-phosphohydrolase activity in these cultures were considerably higher as compared with their levels in the experimental cultures treated with psychosine alone. These results indicate that phorbol ester and DMSO could serve as protective agents for psychosine neurotoxicity.