The differentiation of the oligodendrocyte from its bipotential progenitor culminates in the production of the myelin-specific proteins and the elaboration of membrane processes that ensheath the axon. Mutations in proteolipid protein (PLP) and its alternatively spliced isoform DM-20, the major protein constituents of central nervous system myelin, are characterized by a significant reduction in the number of mature oligodendrocytes, resulting in severe hypomyelination, tremor and early death. The canine shaking pup carries such a mutation, a single base change that substitutes a proline for a histidine near the first transmembrane region of PLP and DM-20. This mutation hinders oligodendrocyte differentiation, as evidence by a splicing pattern at the PLP locus characteristic of immature oligodendrocytes. The spliced transcript expressed earliest in development, DM-20, continues to be overexpressed in shaking pup oligodendrocytes. The disruption of the normal maturation schedule in these X-linked dysmyelinating disorders suggests that PLP or DM-20 plays a fundamental role in oligodendrocyte development. We propose that, while the more abundant PLP is the primary structural component of myelin, DM-20 may be critical to oligodendrocyte maturation.