In the developing mammalian central nervous system astrocytes have been proposed as an important substrate for axon growth. In the adult central nervous system following injury, astrocytes are a major component of the gliotic response which has been proposed to block axon growth. Experimental transplantation studies using cultured astrocytes have suggested that immature but not mature cultured astrocytes have the capacity to support axon outgrowth when transplanted into the adult rodent CNS. These observations suggest that astrocyte maturation is accompanied by changes in the functional capacity of these cells to support axon outgrowth. To determine whether this functional change reflects an intrisic astrocyte property, the extent and molecular bases of neurite outgrowth from embryonic rat cortical and chick retinal neurons on cultures of purified immature and mature astrocytes have been compared in vitro. The rate and extent of neurite outgrowth from both neuronal populations are consistently greater over the surface of immature than over the surface of mature astrocytes. Furthermore, antibodies to NCAM and G4/L1 significantly reduce neurite outgrowth on immature but not mature astrocytes, while antibodies to the integrin B1 receptor reduced outgrowth on both immature and, to a lesser extent, mature astrocytes. These results suggest that in vitro mature astrocytes have a reduced capacity and different molecular bases for supporting neurite outgrowth compared to immature astrocytes and are consistent with the proposal that functional changes during astrocyte maturation may partially contribute to regulating axon growth in the mammalian CNS.