We have analyzed the molecular and biophysical properties of glutamate-gated channels in cells of the oligodendrocyte lineage, using both the CG-4 primary cell line (Louis et al: J. Neurosci. Res. 31:193-204, 1992a) and oligodendrocyte progenitors purified from the rat cerebral cortex. CG-4 progenitor cells, as well as primary progenitors, were stained with a specific anti-GABA antibody. In whole-cell patch-clamp recordings, rapid perfusion of the agonists L-glutamate, kainate, and AMPA produced rapidly desensitizing currents in CG-4 cells. NMDA was ineffective. Both rapidly desensitizing and steady-state components of responses to kainate were inhibited by the kainate/AMPA receptor antagonist CNQX. Northern blot analysis of total mRNA isolated from CG-4 cells revealed co-expression of both AMPA- and kainate-preferring glutamate receptor subunits. The activation of glutamate receptors in CG-4 cells caused a rapid and transient elevation of mRNAs for the immediate early gene NGFI-A.