In the central nervous system of rodents, the extracellular matrix glycoproteins tenascin-C and tenascin-R are expressed predominantly by astrocytes and oligodendrocytes respectively. Both molecules support neurite outgrowth from several neuronal cell types when presented as uniform substrates. When offered as a sharp boundary with a permissive substrate, however, both molecules prevent neurite elongation. On the basis of these observations it has been suggested that tenascin-C and tenascin-R may be relevant in determining the cellular response after injury in the adult rodent central nervous system. To investigate whether tenascin-C and tenascin-R may play important functional roles in the lesioned central nervous system, we have analysed their expression in the olivocerebellar system of the adult rat after 3–acetylpyridine-induced degeneration of nerve cells in the inferior olivary nucleus. Tenascin-C mRNA was not detectable at any time in the unlesioned or lesioned inferior olivary nucleus by in situ hybridization. In the cerebellar cortex, tenascin-C mRNA in Golgi epithelial cells was down-regulated 3 days after the lesion and returned to control values 80 days after the lesion. Tenascin-R mRNA was expressed by distinct neural cell types in the unlesioned olivocerebellar system. After a lesion, the density of cells containing tenascin-R transcripts increased significantly in the inferior olivary nucleus and in the white matter of the cerebellar cortex. Immunohistochemical and immunochemical investigations confirmed these observations at the protein level. Our data thus suggest differential functions of tenascin-C and tenascin-R in the injured central nervous system.