The oligodendrocyte-derived extracellular matrix glycoprotein J1-160/180 is a recognition molecule expressed exclusively in the central nervous system. J1-160/180 has been shown to be adhesive for astrocytes and repellent towards neurons and growth cones. We report here the complete nucleotide sequence of J1-160/180 in the rat. The predicted amino acid sequence showed a structural architecture very similar to tenascin: a cysteine-rich amino terminal region is followed by 4.5 epidermal growth factor-like repeats, 9 fibronectin type III homologous repeats and a domain homologous to fibrinogen. Sequence comparison analysis revealed highest homology of rat J1-160/180 to mouse tenascin and chicken restrictin with a similarity of 66% and 85%, respectively. The J1-160/180-coding mRNA is derived from a single copy gene. Using the polymerase chain reaction we could show that two J1-160/180 isoforms are generated by alternative splicing of the sixth fibronectin type III homologous repeat. Localization of J1-160/180 mRNA by in situ hybridization in the cerebellum, hippocampus and olfactory bulb confirmed the expression of J1-160/180 by oligodendrocytes with a peak of transcription at 7-14 d after birth, indicating a functional role during myelination. In addition, J1-160/180-specific RNA was found in a small subset of neurons in all three structures of the CNS analyzed. These neurons continue to express J1-160/180 in the adult.