During development, retinal ganglion cell axons establish a topographically ordered projection from the retina to the superior colliculus (SC). The putative guidance activities for retinal axons that operate during embryonic development are not detectable in the normal adult SC. However, these cues reappear upon transection of the optic nerve of adult rats. In the present study, we used a modified version of the "stripe assay," in which membranes from either anterior or posterior SC alternated with laminin stripes. Temporal embryonic retinal axons consistently avoid membranes from embryonic posterior SC, but only rarely from adult deafferented SC. However, they are attracted to membranes from both embryonic and adult deafferented anterior SC. Nasal retinal axons only show a significant preference for membranes from posterior SC after deafferentation. When retinal axons were offered a choice to grow on membranes either from their embryonic or their deafferented target regions, they showed a preference for the deafferented SC. On carpets consisting of laminin and membranes from normal SC (not deafferented) or nontarget regions (inferior colliculus), temporal and nasal axons grow either in a random fashion or show preferences for the laminin stripes. Our modified version of the classic stripe assay shows specific growth preferences of embryonic retinal axons for membrane lanes from their appropriate embryonic or deafferented adult target regions. These findings suggest that the deafferentation of the SC in adult rats triggers the reexpression of specific guidance activities for retinal axons. Those "attractive" guidance cues appear to be differentially expressed in the developing and deafferented SC.