The ability of peripheral nervous system (PNS) but not central nervous system (CNS) neurons to regenerate their axons is a striking peculiarity of higher vertebrates. Much research has focused on the inhibitory signals produced by CNS glia that thwart regenerating axons. Less attention has been paid to the injury-induced loss of trophic stimuli needed to promote the survival and regeneration of axotomized neurons. Could differences in the mechanisms that control CNS and PNS neuronal survival and growth also contribute to the disparity in regenerative capacity? Here we review recent studies concerning the nature of the signals necessary to promote neuronal survival and growth, with an emphasis on their significance to regeneration after CNS injury.