Galactolipid metabolism was investigated as a function of development in primary cultures initiated from 19-21-day-old dissociated fetal rat brain. Significant amounts of galactocerebrosides, sulfatides, and monogalactosylglycerides were synthesized and accumulated by 8 days in culture. Thereafter the synthetic rates and levels of these galactolipids increased rapidly, reaching maximal values approximately 22-29 days in culture. Galactolipids containing nonhydroxy or 2-hydroxy fatty acid were both synthesized at approximately equal rates. The initial rates of synthesis, investigated at 15, 29, and 50 days in culture, were three- to fivefold higher for galactocerebrosides than for sulfatides and two- to threefold higher than for monogalactosylglycerides. The total number of cells staining with antisera against galactocerebroside of sulfatide also increased very rapidly between 8 and 22 days in culture, reaching levels of 4-5 million cells per seeded fetal brain. The amount of galactocerebroside or sulfatide per cell stained with the corresponding antiserum increased severalfold from 10 to 27 days in culture and remained high until at least 36 days in culture (the latest time point examined). Thus, the temporal expression of galactolipid accumulation in the cell cultures was comparable to that occurring in rat brain, but some important quantitative reductions in the levels of accumulation per cell in culture were noted. In addition, in contrast to normal brain in which galactolipid synthetic rates are reduced after the period of most active myelination, in culture both synthesis and turnover of these galactolipids remained high, suggestive of a partial arrest in myelin maturation.