We demonstrate by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction and Southern blotting that an immortalized rat oligodendroglial cell line (CG-4) expresses the non-N-methyl-D-aspartate (non-NMDA) glutamate receptor (GluR) genes GluR2-7, KA-1, and KA-2 and that nonimmortalized cells of the rat oligodendroglial lineage express the GluR1-3, GluR5-7, KA-1, and KA-2 genes. Lactic dehydrogenase release assays show that both immortalized and nonimmortalized cells of the oligodendroglial lineage are damaged by a 24-h exposure to 500 microM kainate or 5 mM L-glutamate, but not by a 24-h exposure to up to 10 mM alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate (AMPA). Damage is prevented by the non-NMDA GluR channel inhibitor 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione and is also averted if Ca2+ is removed from the culture medium. Cyclothiazide, which blocks desensitization of AMPA-preferring GluRs, increases cytotoxicity of kainate as well as inducing toxicity of AMPA. We conclude that cells of the oligodendroglial lineage express a population of AMPA-preferring and possibly also kainate-preferring GluR channels that are capable of mediating Ca(2+)-dependent excitotoxicity and that AMPA-induced cytotoxicity is blocked by desensitization of AMPA-preferring GluRs.