The failure of axons to regenerate after spinal cord injury remains one of the greatest challenges facing both medicine and neuroscience, but in the last 20 years there have been tremendous advances in the field of spinal cord injury repair. One of the most important of these has been the identification of inhibitory proteins in CNS myelin, and this has led to the development of strategies that will enable axons to overcome myelin inhibition. Elevation of intracellular cyclic AMP (cAMP) has been one of the most successful of these strategies, and in this review we examine how cAMP signaling promotes axonal regeneration in the CNS. Intracellular cAMP levels can be increased through a peripheral conditioning lesion, administration of cAMP analogues, priming with neurotrophins or treatment with the phosphodiesterase inhibitor rolipram, and each of these methods has been shown to overcome myelin inhibition both in vitro and in vivo. It is now known that the effects of cAMP are transcription dependent, and that cAMP-mediated activation of CREB leads to upregulated expression of genes such as arginase I and interleukin-6. The products of these genes have been shown to directly promote axonal regeneration, which raises the possibility that other cAMP-regulated genes could yield additional agents that would be beneficial in the treatment of spinal cord injury. Further study of these genes, in combination with human clinical trials of existing agents such as rolipram, would allow the therapeutic potential of cAMP to be fully realized.