This study was designed to investigate whether the residual, dysfunctional oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) observed following X-irradiation of the mouse spinal cord [D. M. Chari et al. (2003) Exp. Neurol., 198, 145–153], the presence of which prevented the endogenous repopulation of these areas from normal tissue, reflects a general response of OPCs in the mouse central nervous system (CNS) to X-irradiation. The brains of adult mice were exposed to 40 Gy of X-irradiation and the effect of X-irradiation on the OPCs was assessed up to 4 weeks post-irradiation using anti-NG2 antibodies. X-irradiation resulted in almost complete depletion of OPCs within the telencephalon (cortex, corpus callosum and hippocampus) by 7 days post-irradiation, which was followed by progressive repopulation of OPCs from non-irradiated areas of the cortex. By contrast, within the lower brain centres (the diencephalon and mesencephalon) OPC loss occurred much more slowly so that 26% of the OPCs still remained 4 weeks after X-irradiation. The consequence of this heterogeneous response to X-irradiation was that whereas transplanted and endogenous OPCs rapidly established themselves in the OPC-depleted telencephalon this did not occur in the areas where there was incomplete depletion of endogenous OPCs. Our findings confirm not only the requirement for almost complete OPC depletion in order to establish transplanted OPCs in normal tissue but also highlight a heterogeneity of progenitor populations in different areas of the mouse CNS.