Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neurotrophin-4/5 (NT-4/5) protein and mRNA are found in the neonatal rat retina and also in target sites such as the superficial layers of the superior colliculus. Both neurotrophins support neonatal retinal ganglion cell survival in vitro. In vivo, injections of recombinant BDNF and NT-4/5 reduce naturally occurring cell death as well as death induced by removal of the contralateral superior colliculus. In the latter case, the peak of retinal ganglion cell death occurs about 24 h postlesion. We wished to determine: whether a similar time-course of degeneration occurs after selective removal of target cells or depletion of target-derived trophic factors, and whether ganglion cell viability also depends on intraretinally derived neurotrophins. Retinal ganglion cell death was measured 24 and 48 h following injections of kainic acid or a mixture of BDNF and NT-4/5 blocking antibodies into the superior colliculus and 24 h after intraocular injection of the same antibodies. Retinotectally projecting ganglion cells were identified by retrograde labeling with the nucleophilic dye diamidino yellow. We show that collicular injections of either kainic acid or BDNF and NT-4/5 blocking antibodies significantly increased retinal ganglion cell death in the neonatal rat 24 h postinjection, death rates returning to normal by 48 h. This increase in death was greatest following collicular injections; however, death was also significantly increased 24 h following intravitreal antibody injection. Thus retinal ganglion cell survival during postnatal development is not only dependent upon trophic factors produced by central targets but may also be influenced by local intraretinal neurotrophin release.