Elucidation of the response of oligodendrocyte progenitor cell populations to demyelination in the adult central nervous system (CNS) is critical to understanding why remyelination fails in multiple sclerosis. Using the anti-NG2 monoclonal antibody to identify oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, we have documented their response to antibody-induced demyelination in the dorsal column of the adult rat spinal cord. The number of NG2+ cells in the vicinity of demyelinated lesions increased by 72% over the course of 3 days following the onset of demyelination. This increase in NG2+ cell numbers did not reflect a nonspecific staining of reactive cells, as GFAP, OX-42, and Rip antibodies did not co-localise with NG2 + cells in double immunostained tissue sections. NG2 + cells incorporated BrdU 48-72 h following the onset of demyelination. After the onset of remyelination (10-14 days), the number of NG2+ cells decreased to 46% of control levels and remained consistently low for 2 months. When spinal cords were exposed to 40 Grays of x-irradiation prior to demyelination, the number of NG2+ cells decreased to 48% of control levels by 3 days following the onset of demyelination and remained unchanged at 3 weeks. Since 40 Grays of x-irradiation kills dividing cells, these studies illustrate a responsive and nonresponsive NG2+ cell population following demyelination in the adult spinal cord and suggest that the responsive NG2+ cell population does not renew itself.