Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) has recently generated great interest due to its potential as a therapeutic agent for the treatment of human neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Because the systemic half-life of CNTF is only in the order of a few minutes, continuous delivery of this trophic factor could be attractive or even necessary in the therapy of these diseases. One promising technique involves the polymer encapsulation of cells which have been genetically modified to secrete neurotrophic factors. The polymer capsules can be implanted into animals and effect the slow release of the protein for several months. The encapsulation technique immuno-isolates the foreign cells from host immune cells and at the same time prevents tumour formation by the transplanted cells. In this study, we have used progressive motoneuronopathy (pmn) mice to determine the extent to which encapsulated cell lines secreting CNTF could alter the course of the disease. pmn/pmn homozygotes present severe loss of myelinated motor fibres and a significant reduction of facial motoneuron cell bodies. The mice develop weakness of the hindlimbs and die during the sixth week after birth. We found that CNTF delayed the disease progression by increasing the survival time by 40% and by improving motor function as assessed by three behavioural tests. Moreover, histological counts of the phrenic nerve myelinated axons and facial nucleus motoneurons indicated a significant reduction of motoneuron loss. These results suggest that polymer-encapsulated cells releasing neurotrophic factors may provide a potential delivery system for treating neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS.