Most neurons form synapses exclusively with other neurons, but little is known about the molecular mechanisms mediating synaptogenesis in the central nervous system. Using an in vitro system, we demonstrate that neuroligin-1 and -2, postsynaptically localized proteins, can trigger the de novo formation of presynaptic structure. Nonneuronal cells engineered to express neuroligins induce morphological and functional presynaptic differentiation in contacting axons. This activity can be inhibited by addition of a soluble version of beta-neurexin, a receptor for neuroligin. Furthermore, addition of soluble beta-neurexin to a coculture of defined pre- and postsynaptic CNS neurons inhibits synaptic vesicle clustering in axons contacting target neurons. Our results suggest that neuroligins are part of the machinery employed during the formation and remodeling of CNS synapses.