The formation of protrusions along the shaft of neurites might be important in the establishment and refinement of neuronal connections during development. In a search for extracellular signals that affect the formation of microprocesses along neurites we found that the ECM glycoprotein tenascin-R (TN-R) but not other ECM glycoproteins increased the percentage of tectal neurons with actin-rich microprocesses and side branches. Longer actin-based microprocesses were also invaded by microtubuli in their proximal part. The formation of microprocesses by TN-R extending laterally along the neuritic shaft was time- and dose-dependent. In addition to the induction of microprocesses, TN-R increased the size of the growth cone of tectal neurons. A cross-species experiment in combination with blocking antibodies demonstrated that the TN-R-induced effects are mediated by the Ig superfamily member contactin. These observations suggest that TN-R via its neuronal receptor contactin might induce a transition from long-distance growth of tectal interneurons to differentiation, including the formation of microprocesses.