Cholinesterases present homologies with some cell adhesion molecules; however, it is unclear whether and how they perform adhesive functions. Here, we provide the first direct evidence showing that neurite growth in vitro from various neuronal tissues of the chick embryo can be modified by some, but not all, anticholinesterase agents. By quantifying the neuritic G4 antigen in tectal cell cultures, the effect of anticholinesterases on neurite growth is directly compared with their cholinesterase inhibitory action. BW 284C51 and ethopropazine, inhibiting acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), respectively, strongly decrease neurite growth in a dose-dependent manner. However, echothiophate which inhibits both cholinesterases, does not change neuritic growth. These quantitative data are supplemented by morphological observations in retinal explant cultures grown on striped laminin carpets, viz., defasciculation of neurite bundles by BW 284C51 and Bambuterol occurs, indicating that these drugs disturb adhesive mechanisms. These data strongly suggest that a) cholinesterases can participate in regulating axonal growth, b) both AChE and BChE can perform such a nonsynaptic function, and c) this function is not the result of the enzyme activity per se, since at least one drug was found that inhibits all cholinesterase activities but not neurite growth. Thus, a secondary site on cholinesterase molecules must be responsible for adhesive functions.