ARIA acetylcholine receptor-inducing activity protein, is a member of a family of ligands that includes the Neu differentiation factor, heregulin, and glial growth factor. These ligands all act through one or more receptor tyrosine kinases of approximately 185 kDa. In some conditions these ligands promote proliferation, whereas in others they induce differentiation. ARIA was originally isolated from chick brain on the basis of its ability to induce synthesis of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in skeletal muscle. In this paper we show that ARIA is expressed in the subventricular zone of the rat brain and that it enhances the development of oligodendrocytes from bipotential (O2A) glial progenitor cells. We have also found that ARIA induces tyrosine phosphorylation of a 185-kDa protein in O2A progenitor cells. ARIA does not increase bromodeoxyuridine incorporation by oligodendrocytes but is mitogenic when added to Schwann cells in vitro. Thus, ARIA accelerates the formation of oligodendrocytes in vitro and is expressed where it could exercise the same influence in vivo.