In vertebrates, approximately 50% of the lumbosacral motoneurons die during a short period of development that coincides with synaptogenesis in the limb. Although it has been postulated that these motoneurons die because they fail to obtain adequate trophic support from the muscles, it is not clear how this factor is supplied. The mechanism by which activity blockade prevents motoneurons cell death is also unknown. In order to begin to understand the nature of these proposed trophic interactions, we have examined the temporal sequence of axonal invasion and ramification within two muscles of the chick hindlimb, the predominantly slow iliofibularis and the fast posterior iliotibialis, during the cell death period. We found striking differences in intramuscular nerve ingrowth and branching between fast and slow muscle. We also observed differences in the molecular composition of fast and slow myotubes that may contribute to the nerve pattern differences. In addition, we observed a progressive increase in the degree of intramuscular nerve fasciculation as well as a precise temporal sequence of nerve branching. The earliest detectable response to chronic curarization was a dramatic decrease in the degree of intramuscular nerve fasciculation. Activity blockade also greatly enhanced nerve branching within the muscles from the time that nerve branches normally formed, and, additionally, interfered with the normal cessation of axon growth. Our results support the idea that nerve endings are the sites of trophic uptake. Furthermore, although our results do not allow us to exclude other activity-dependent influences on motoneuron survival, they suggest the following testable hypotheses: (1) the normal regulation of motoneuron survival may result from the precise control of intramuscular nerve branching, (2) activity blockade may increase motoneuron survival by enhancing intramuscular nerve branching, and (3) anything which affects this complex process of nerve branching may also alter motoneuron survival.