The bcl-2 gene codes for a protein that acts as a powerful inhibitor of active cell death. Since the transection of the optic nerve in adult mammalians starts a massive process of degeneration in retinal ganglion cells, we investigated whether the overexpression of bcl-2 in adult transgenic mice can protect the axotomized ganglion cells. We performed intracranial optic nerve transection on both wild type and transgenic adult mice, and we tested cell survival 2 or 3.5 months after axotomy. The percentage of surviving ganglion cells after optic nerve section was computed by combining the counts of the optic nerve fibres in intact nerves with the cell density measures of the ganglion cell layer of axotomized retinae. From these data we found that in transgenic mice approximately 65% of ganglion cells survived 3.5 months after axotomy. In contrast, 2 months after surgery, < 10% of ganglion cells were left in wild type retinae. We have also examined the morphology and fine structure of the proximal stump of the sectioned optic nerves by light and electron microscopy. In the transgenic mice a very large number of axons survived after surgery and they still exhibited fairly normal morphology and ultrastructure. On the other hand the wild type transected nerves had only a few visible axons that displayed clear signs of degeneration. We conclude that the overexpression of Bcl-2 protein in central neurons is a very effective strategy to ensure long-term survival in axotomized cells.