In the small-optic-lobes (sol) and sine oculis (so) mutants of Drosophila melanogaster extensive cell death occurs in the optic lobes during the first half of pupal development. Gynandromorph flies show that the sol mutation acts primarily on cells of the medulla cortex. Degeneration of medullar ganglion cells occurs at an early stage of cellular differentiation, when their axons have not yet participated in the formation of the second optic chiasma. The so gene, on the other hand, acts on the eye anlagen. The analysis of chimeric flies demonstrates that degeneration in the optic lobes of so flies is a consequence of eye reduction. At the level of the second optic chiasma extensive axonal degeneration can be observed in the mutant. Neurons seem to die after their failure to establish a sufficient number of functional contacts. In sol;so double mutants, the mutational effects are cumulative causing complete degeneration of columnar cell types in pupae without any eye anlage. The tiny rudiments of the optic lobes in eyeless double mutants still contain tangential neurons of the medulla and of the lobula complex. The central brain is reduced in size due to the missing visual fibers, however, its overall appearance is surprisingly normal.