Monoclonal antibody Cat-301 was previously shown to recognize a surface-associated antigen on subsets of mammalian CNS neurons whose expression is regulated by neuronal activity early in an animal's postnatal life. We now present the partial purification and characterization of the Cat-301 antigen and demonstrate that it is a chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan. Extracellular localization of the Cat-301 epitope is demonstrated by staining live, intact neurons in situ. Extraction of the antigen from membranes in the absence of detergent indicates that it is either a peripheral membrane protein or a component of an extracellular matrix. The Cat-301 antigen migrates on Western blots of SDS gels with a molecular weight of integral of 680,000 dalton and is purified by DEAE chromatography and Sepharose gel filtration in 8 M urea (pH 4.9) buffer. The antigen is sensitive to chondroitinase ABC, indicating that it is a chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan. Furthermore, we provide strong evidence that the biochemically characterized antigen is indeed the histologically detected species by using a second antibody, Cat-304, that produces immunohistological staining patterns identical to those of Cat-301 and reacts with the purified antigen, but at a distinct epitope. Our earlier developmental findings and the present localization and biochemical results suggest that the antigen may play a role in the maturation of functional connections between neurons, perhaps through stabilization of axosomatic and axodendritic synapses.