Many major diseases of human brain involve deficiencies of select neuronal populations. As one approach to repair, we examined regulation of neurogenesis directly in vivo, employing postnatal day 1 (P1) cerebellar cortex, which is composed primarily of granule neurons and dividing precursors. We focused on basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), which stimulates precursor mitosis in culture and which is highly expressed in cerebellum during neurogenesis. Subcutaneous injection of bFGF increased [3H]thymidine ([3H]dT) incorporation, a marker for DNA synthesis, by 50% in whole cerebellar homogenates, suggesting that peripherally administered factor altered ongoing neural proliferation. Further, assay of isolated granule precursors revealed a 4-fold increase in [3H]dT incorporation following in vivo bFGF treatment, indicating that granule neuroblasts were the major bFGF-responsive population. Morphologic analysis indicated that twice as many granule precursors were in S-phase of the mitotic cycle after peripheral bFGF. To determine whether other neurogenetic populations respond to peripheral bFGF, we examined additional brain regions in vivo. bFGF stimulated DNA synthesis by 68% in hippocampus, and by > 250% in pontine subventricular zone (SVZ). In contrast, incorporation was not altered in basal pons or cerebral cortex, regions in which neurogenesis has already ceased. To define potential direct actions of peripherally administered factor, 125I-bFGF was used to study distribution. Intact 18 kDa 125I-bFGF was recovered from brain following peripheral injection, suggesting that the factor acted directly to stimulate mitosis in dividing neuroblasts. The stimulation of neuronal proliferation by exogenous bFGF suggests that the factor normally regulates neurogenesis, and provides new therapeutic approaches to promote functional recovery from nervous system diseases.