The decisive role played by adhesive interactions between neuronal processes and the culture substrate in determining the form and extent of neurite outgrowth in vitro has greatly influenced ideas about the mechanisms of axonal growth and guidance in the vertebrate nervous system. These studies have also helped to identify adhesive molecules that might be involved in guiding axonal growth in vivo. One candidate molecule is laminin, a major glycoprotein of basal laminae which has been shown to induce a wide variety of embryonic neurones to extend neurites in culture. Moreover, laminin is found in large amounts in injured nerves that can successfully regenerate but is absent from nerves where regeneration fails. However, it is unclear to what extent the mechanisms that regulate axonal regeneration also operate in the embryo when axon outgrowth is initiated. Here we have examined the substrate requirements for neurite outgrowth in vitro by chick embryo retinal ganglion cells, the only cells in the retina to send axons to the brain. We show that while retinal ganglion cells from embryonic day 6 (E6) chicks extend profuse neurites on laminin, those from E11 do not, although they retain the ability to extend neurites on astrocytes via a laminin-independent mechanism. This represents the first evidence that central nervous system neurones may undergo a change in their substrate requirements for neurite outgrowth as they mature.