Because the integrity of an axon depends on the supply of proteins synthesized in the cell body, we examined the effect of axotomy on the transport of structural proteins in rat motor axons, and the effect of altered transport on the rate of outgrowth after a subsequent testing axotomy. To examine the axonal transport of structural proteins, we labeled newly synthesized proteins with 35S-methionine 7 days after a "conditioning" lesion of the sciatic nerve, and removed the nerve 7-21 days later for SDS-PAGE. Tubulin, actin, calmodulin, and the 68-kD light neurofilament protein (NF-L) were identified by fluorography and removed for liquid scintillation counting. The fastest moving structural proteins were carried by slow component b (SCb) of axonal transport, which advanced 20% faster in conditioned axons: 4.2 versus 3.5 mm/day (p less than 0.01). NF-L was not accelerated, indicating that the motor for subcomponent a (SCa) of slow axonal transport was unaffected by axotomy. To measure outgrowth distances, the testing lesions was made 7 days after the conditioning lesion, and growth cones were located by the fast transport method 3 or 9 days later. The regression analysis of outgrowth distance on time showed that sprouts elongated 25% faster in conditioned axons: 4.0 versus 3.2 mm/day (p less than 0.001). These accelerated sprouts were formed too far from the spinal cord to contain SCb proteins that were synthesized after axotomy. Because the rate of outgrowth correlated closely with the rate of SCb in outgrowing sprouts (McQuarrie and Jacob, J. Comp. Neurol. 305:139-147, 1991), we conclude that SCb is accelerated throughout the length of the axon by 7 days after axotomy.