Developing vertebrate neurons are thought to depend for their survival on specific neurotrophic proteins present in their target fields. The limited availability of these proteins does not allow the survival of all neurons initially innervating a target, resulting in the widely observed phenomenon of naturally occurring neuronal death. Although a variety of proteins have been reported to promote the survival of neurons in tissue culture, the demonstration that these proteins increase neuronal numbers and/or decrease neuronal death in vivo has only been possible with nerve growth factor (NGF). The generalization of the concept that neurotrophic proteins regulate neuronal survival during normal development critically depends on the demonstration that the survival of neurons in vivo can be increased by the administration of a neurotrophic protein different from NGF. We report here that this is the case with brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein of extremely low abundance purified from the central nervous system.