Carbonic anhydrase II (CA II) is one of 14 isozymes of carbonic anhydrases, zinc metalloenzymes that catalyze the reversible hydration of carbon dioxide to bicarbonate. Mutations in CA II in humans lead to osteopetrosis with renal tubular acidosis and cerebral calcifications, a disorder often associated with mental retardation. Recently, new avenues in CA II research have opened as a result of discoveries that the enzyme increases bicarbonate and proton fluxes and may play an important role in brain tissue. In the human brain, CA II was localized to oligodendrocytes, myelin, and choroid plexus epithelium. Because this conclusion was based on a few fragmentary reports, we analyzed in more detail the expression of the enzyme in human telencephalon. By immunoblotting, we found a gradual increase in CA II levels from 17 weeks' gestation to childhood and adolescence. By immunohistochemistry, CA II was found to be present not only in oligodendrocytes and choroid plexus epithelium (declining with aging in both these locations), but also in a subset of neurons mostly with GABAergic phenotype, in a few astrocytes, and transiently during brain development in the endothelial cells of microvessels. The enzyme also occurred in oligodendrocyte processes in contact with myelinating axons, myelin sheaths, and axolemma, but was either absent or appeared in minute amounts in compact myelin. These findings suggest the possible involvement of CA II in a wide spectrum of biologic processes in the developing and adult human brain and may contribute to better understanding of the pathogenesis of cerebral calcifications and mental retardation caused by CA II deficiency.