Robust axonal growth is required during development to establish neuronal connectivity. However, stable fibre patterns are necessary to maintain adult mammalian central nervous system (CNS) function. After adult CNS injury, factors that maintain axonal stability limit the recovery of function. Extracellular molecules play an important role in preserving the stability of the adult CNS axons and in restricting recovery from pathological damage. Adult axonal growth inhibitors include a group of proteins on the oligodendrocyte, Nogo-A, myelin-associated glycoprotein, oligodendrocyte-myelin glycoprotein and ephrin-B3, which interact with axonal receptors, such as NgR1 and EphA4. Extracellular proteoglycans containing chondroitin sulphates also inhibit axonal sprouting in the adult CNS, particularly at the sites of astroglial scar formation. Therapeutic perturbations of these extracellular axonal growth inhibitors and their receptors or signalling mechanisms provide a degree of axonal sprouting and regeneration in the adult CNS. After CNS injury, such interventions support a partial return of neurological function.