During metamorphosis in the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, identified larval leg motoneurons survive the degeneration of their larval targets to innervate new muscles of the adult legs. The dendrites and axon terminals of these motoneurons regress at the end of the larval stage and then regrow during adult development. Previous studies have implicated the insect steroid, 20-hydroxyecdysone (20-HE), in similar examples of dendritic reorganization during metamorphosis. The present studies were undertaken to test whether 20-HE acts directly on the leg motoneurons to regulate dendritic growth. Larval leg motoneurons were labeled with a fluorescent dye to permit their identification in culture following the dissociation of thoracic ganglia at later stages of development. Leg motoneurons isolated from early pupal stage animals (just before the normal onset of dendritic regrowth) survived in vitro and grew processes regardless of whether 20-HE was added to the culture medium. The extent of process outgrowth, however, as measured by the total length of all processes and the number of branches, was significantly greater for motoneurons maintained in the presence of 20-HE. The enhancement could be blocked by the addition of a juvenile hormone analog. By contrast, larval leg motoneurons that were isolated just before the normal period of dendritic regression did not show enhanced growth of neurites in the presence of 20-HE. The results suggest that 20-HE acts directly on the leg motoneurons to regulate the growth of processes during metamorphosis.