Adult rat retinal ganglion cells (RGC) undergo degeneration after optic nerve transection. Studies have shown that exogenously applied neurotrophic factors such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) can attenuate axotomy-induced as well as developmental RGC death. Here, we examined whether glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), a known neurotrophic factor for dopaminergic neurons and motor neurons, could provide neurotrophic support to RGC in adult rats. We determined whether RGC could retrogradely transport GDNF from their target tissue. After injection into the superior colliculus of adult rats, 125I-GDNF was retrogradely transported to contralateral eyes but not to ipsilateral eyes. The transport of 125I-GDNF could be blocked by coinjection of excess unlabeled GDNF, indicating that it was receptor mediated. We tested whether intravitreally applied GDNF could prevent axotomy-induced RGC degeneration. The RGC were prelabeled with Fluorogold (FG) and axotomized by intraorbital optic nerve transection. GDNF, BDNF (positive control), cytochrome c (negative control), or a GDNF/BDNF combination was injected intravitreally on days 0 and 7. On day 14, FG-labeled RGC were counted from whole-mount retinas. We found that, similar to BDNF, GDNF could significantly attenuate the degeneration of RGC in a dose-dependent fashion. Furthermore, the combination treatment of GDNF and BDNF showed better protection than either factor used individually. Our data indicate that GDNF is a neurotrophic factor for the adult rat RGC. GDNF, like BDNF, may be useful for the treatment of human RGC degenerative diseases.