When chick embryos are treated with a monoclonal antibody specifically blocking the activity of neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), the development of the retina is profoundly affected. Fewer axons are found in the optic nerve, and the retina shows abnormalities in all layers. Early during retinogenesis, the proportion of dividing cells is higher in NT-3-deprived embryos compared with age-matched controls and that of differentiated neurons is smaller. The NT-3 receptor trkC is expressed early by a majority of retinal cells, and NT-3 is present in the retina at the earliest stage studied. Initially, it is located mainly in the pigmented epithelium, with a shift toward the neural retina as development proceeds. Thus, NT-3 seems to be an essential intrinsic signal acting early in development to promote the differentiation and survival of many retinal neurons.