Basic fibroblast growth factor (or FGF-2) has been shown to be a potent stimulator of retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axonal growth during development. Here we investigated if FGF-2 upregulation in adult RGCs promoted axon regrowth in vivo after acute optic nerve injury. Recombinant adeno-associated virus (AAV) was used to deliver the FGF-2 gene to adult RGCs providing a sustained source of this neurotrophic factor. FGF-2 gene transfer led to a 10-fold increase in the number of axons that extended past 0.5 mm from the lesion site compared to control nerves. Detection of AAV-mediated FGF-2 protein in injured RGC axons correlated with growth into the distal optic nerve. The response to FGF-2 upregulation was supported by our finding that FGF receptor-1 (FGFR-1) and heparan sulfate (HS), known to be essential for FGF-2 signaling, were expressed by adult rat RGCs. FGF-2 transgene expression led to only transient protection of injured RGCs. Thus the effect of this neurotrophic factor on axon extension could not be solely attributed to an increase in neuronal survival. Our data indicate that selective upregulation of FGF-2 in adult RGCs stimulates axon regrowth within the optic nerve, an environment that is highly inhibitory for regeneration. These results support the hypothesis that key factors involved in axon outgrowth during neural development may promote regeneration of adult injured neurons.