The c-Jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs) are important regulators of physiological and pathological processes in the central and peripheral nervous system. In general, JNKs are considered as mediators of neuronal degeneration in response to stress and injury. However, recent data have provided substantial evidence that JNKs are also essential for physiological and regenerative signalling in neurons. This review summarizes the importance of JNKs for neurite formation and outgrowth, brain development, dendritic architecture and regeneration of nerve fibers after injury. We discuss putative mechanisms which control the bipartite actions of individual JNK isoforms for neuronal death and repair after nerve fiber injury with a particular focus on the role of the transcription factor c-Jun.