The cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) NCAM, N-cadherin, and L1 are homophilic binding molecules that stimulate axonal growth. We have postulated that the above CAMs can stimulate this response by activating the fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) in neurons. In the present study, we demonstrate that activation of NCAM and L1 can lead to phosphorylation of the FGFR. Both this and the neurite outgrowth response stimulated by all three of the above CAMs are lost when a kinase-deleted, dominant negative form of FGFR1 is expressed in PC12 cells. In addition, we have generated transgenic mice that express the dominant negative FGFR under control of the neuron-specific enolase (NSE) promoter. We show that cerebellar neurons isolated from these mice have also lost their ability to respond to NCAM, N-cadherin, and L1. A peptide inhibitor of phospholipase C gamma (PLCgamma) that inhibits neurite outgrowth stimulated by FGF also inhibited neurite outgrowth stimulated by the CAMs. Thus, we conclude that activation of the FGFR is both necessary and sufficient to account for the ability of the above CAMs to stimulate axonal growth, and that PLCgamma is a key downstream effector of this response.