Dissociated neonatal rat retinal ganglion cells can be maintained by the addition of an extract from the neonatal superior colliculus. This extract can support 95% of ganglion cells over 24 h in culture; in addition it promotes the expression of neurites from these cells. This report describes the purification of a neurotrophic factor from the superior colliculus which supports the survival of 80% of retinal ganglion cells over 24 h in vitro. The purification procedure involves a combination of dye-ligand, anion-exchange, and molecular sieve chromatography. The purified neurotrophic factor has a Stokes radius of approximately 200 A using molecular sieve chromatography in the presence of a chaotropic agent. Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of the purified factor indicates that it is a glycoprotein that migrates with a molecular mass greater than 400 kDa. Further characterization of this high-molecular-mass glycoprotein by enzymatic digestion demonstrated that it is a chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan. This factor is clearly distinguishable from other neurotrophic factors that have an effect on retinal ganglion cells such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor and fibroblast growth factor. The chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan from the neonatal superior colliculus is the first proteoglycan to be identified as a neurotrophic factor.