The mRNA for the seven-transmembrane-spanning G protein-coupled receptor fusin/CXCR-4 is expressed in primary mouse astrocyte cultures and the transformed mouse microglial cell line, N9. Cell surface expression of fusin in these cells was confirmed by staining with a polyclonal anti-fusin Ab. The functional capacity of this chemokine receptor was examined by evaluating the calcium responses following stimulation of glial cells with the CXC-chemokine, stromal-derived cell factor-1alpha (SDF-1alpha). Both astrocytes and microglial cells mobilized calcium following stimulation with chemically synthesized SDF-1alpha. SDF-1alpha- and carbachol-mediated calcium responses of astrocytes were partially inhibited by treatment with pertussis toxin (PTx), suggesting receptor coupling to a combination of G alpha(i) and other G proteins. In contrast, the calcium responses of microglial cells to SDF-1alpha were completely PTx sensitive, while responses to carbachol stimulation were PTx resistant. The ability of SDF-1alpha to induce glial cell migration was also examined. Synthetic SDF-1alpha was a potent chemoattractant for mouse microglial cells at ligand concentrations of 10 to 500 ng/ml; peak responses were noted at 100 ng/ml. In contrast, astrocytes did not migrate toward a gradient of SDF-1alpha. The failure of SDF-1alpha to induce astrocyte migration was specific, as another chemokine, macrophage inflammatory protein-1alpha, triggered astrocyte chemotaxis.