Growing axons are guided by both diffusible and substrate-bound factors. Growth cones of retinal neurons exhibit chemoattractive turning towards the diffusible factor netrin-1 in vitro and are guided into the optic nerve head (ONH) by localized netrin-1. Here we report that, in Xenopus, laminin-1 from the extracellular matrix (ECM), converts netrin-mediated attraction into repulsion. A soluble peptide fragment of laminin-1 (YIGSR) mimics this laminin-induced conversion. Low levels of cyclic AMP in growth cones also lead to the conversion of netrin-induced attraction into repulsion, and we show that the amount of cAMP decreases in the presence of laminin-1 or YIGSR, suggesting a possible mechanism for laminin's effect. At the netrin-1-rich ONH, where axons turn sharply to leave the eye, laminin-1 is confined to the retinal surface. Repulsion from the region in which laminin and netrin are coexpressed may help to drive axons into the region where only netrin is present, providing a mechanism for their escape from the retinal surface. Consistent with this idea, YIGSR peptides applied to the developing retina cause axons to be misdirected at the ONH. These findings indicate that ECM molecules not only promote axon outgrowth, but also modify the behaviour of growth cones in response to diffusible guidance cues.