Two proteolipid proteins, PLP and DM20, are the major membrane components of central nervous system (CNS) myelin. Mutations of the X-linked PLP/DM20 gene cause dysmyelination in mouse and man and result in significant mortality. Here we show that mutant mice that lack expression of a targeted PLP gene fail to exhibit the known dysmyelinated phenotype. Unable to encode PLP/DM20 or PLP-related polypeptides, oligodendrocytes are still competent to myelinate CNS axons of all calibers and to assemble compacted myelin sheaths. Ultrastructurally, however, the electron-dense 'intraperiod' lines in myelin remain condensed, correlating with its reduced physical stability. This suggests that after myelin compaction, PLP forms a stabilizing membrane junction, similar to a "zipper." Dysmyelination and oligodendrocyte death emerge as an epiphenomenon of other PLP mutations and have been uncoupled in the PLP null allele from the risk of premature myelin breakdown.