The glia-derived J1 extracellular matrix glycoproteins have been referred to as J1-160/J1-180 (the developmentally late appearing lower molecular weight group) and J1-200/J1-220 (the developmentally early appearing higher molecular group immunochemically related to tenascin). Members of the two groups show distinct cross-reactivities. To characterize the structural and functional differences between these J1 glycoproteins, two monoclonal antibodies were generated which recognize only the members of the lower molecular weight group. The two antibodies detect immunochemical similarities among the members of the lower molecular weight group, but do not react with J1/tenascin. J1-160 and J1-180 are specifically expressed by differentiated oligodendrocytes in culture and by myelin of the central nervous system and have not been found in the peripheral nervous system nor in any other organ of the adult mice tested. Electron microscopic examination of rotary-shadowed J1-160 and J1-180 reveals, respectively, dimeric and trimeric (tribrachion) kink-armed rodlike structures, which are linked by disulfide bridges. J1-160/J1-180 are nonpermissive substrates for the attachment and spreading of early postnatal small cerebellar neurons, astrocytes, and fibroblasts. In a mixture with laminin, J1-160/J1-180 are nonpermissive substrates for neurons, but not for astrocytes or fibroblasts. The repulsive effect toward neurons can be neutralized by one of the monoclonal antibodies, but not by the other. These observations are discussed in the context of cell interactions during regeneration in the mammalian nervous system.