In the immature human brain, periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) is the predominant white matter injury underlying the development of cerebral palsy. PVL has its peak incidence during a well-defined period in human brain development (23–32 weeks postconceptional age) characterized by extensive oligodendrocyte migration and maturation. We hypothesized that the dramatic rise of oxygen tissue tension associated with mammalian birth and additional oxygen exposure of the preterm infant during intensive care may be harmful to immature oligodendrocytes (OLs). We therefore investigated the effects of hyperoxia on rat oligodendroglia cells in vitro and in vivo. Immature OLs (OLN-93), their progenitors [preoligodendrocytes (pre-OL)], and mature OLs were subjected to 80% hyperoxia (24–96 hr). Flow cytometry was used to assess cell death. Cell viability was measured by metabolism of 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium (MTT). In addition, 6-day-old rat pups were subjected to 80% oxygen (24 hr) and then sacrificed, and their brains were processed for immunfluorescence staining. Apoptosis was detected at various stages (annexin-V, activated caspase-3) after 24–48 hr of incubation in 80% oxygen in pre- and immature OLs. Mature OLs were resistant to oxygen exposure. These results were confirmed by MTT assay. This cell death was blocked by administration of the pan-caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk. Degeneration of OLs was confirmed in 7-day-old rat brains by positive staining for activated caspase-3. Hyperoxia triggers maturation-dependent apoptosis in immature and pre-OLs and involves caspase activation. This mechanism may be relevant to the white matter injury observed in infants born preterm.