Axonal elongation and the transformation of growth cones to synaptic terminals are major steps of brain development and the molecular mechanisms involved form the basis of the correct wiring of the nervous system. The same mechanisms may also contribute to the remodelling of nerve terminals that occurs in the adult brain, as a morphological substrate to memory and learning. We have investigated the function of the nerve terminal protein SNAP-25 (ref. 2) during development. We report here that SNAP-25 is expressed in axonal growth cones during late stages of elongation and that selective inhibition of SNAP-25 expression prevents neurite elongation by rat cortical neurons and PC-12 cells in vitro and by amacrine cells of the developing chick retina in vivo. These results demonstrate that SNAP-25 plays a key role in axonal growth. They also suggest that high levels of SNAP-25 expression in specific areas of the adult brain may contribute to nerve terminal plasticity.