Short-term exposure of primary cultures of cerebellar granule cells from neonatal rat brain to high concentrations of glutamate resulted in a significant increase of both immunoreactivity to and mRNA levels of tau protein. Time-course experiments revealed the increases of tau immunoreactivity and mRNA levels to be maximal 2 h after the glutamate pulse. To investigate the relationship between newly synthesized tau protein and glutamate-induced neurotoxicity, neurons were preincubated with a specific tau antisense oligonucleotide. This treatment resulted in (i) inhibition of the glutamate-induced increase of tau immunoreactivity and (ii) a decrease in the sensitivity of the neurons to neurotoxic concentrations of glutamate. These data indicate that induction of the cytoskeleton-associated tau protein participates in the cascade of events promoted by glutamate leading to neurodegeneration.