Oligodendroglia support axon survival and function through mechanisms independent of myelination, and their dysfunction leads to axon degeneration in several diseases. The cause of this degeneration has not been determined, but lack of energy metabolites such as glucose or lactate has been proposed. Lactate is transported exclusively by monocarboxylate transporters, and changes to these transporters alter lactate production and use. Here we show that the most abundant lactate transporter in the central nervous system, monocarboxylate transporter 1 (MCT1, also known as SLC16A1), is highly enriched within oligodendroglia and that disruption of this transporter produces axon damage and neuron loss in animal and cell culture models. In addition, this same transporter is reduced in patients with, and in mouse models of, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, suggesting a role for oligodendroglial MCT1 in pathogenesis. The role of oligodendroglia in axon function and neuron survival has been elusive; this study defines a new fundamental mechanism by which oligodendroglia support neurons and axons.