Neurons within each layer of cerebral cortex express multiple members of the neurotrophin family and their corresponding receptors. This multiplicity could provide functional redundancy; alternatively, different neurotrophins may direct distinct aspects of cortical neuronal growth and differentiation. By neutralizing endogenous neurotrophins in organotypic slices of developing cortex with Trk receptor bodies (Trk-IgGs), we found that BDNF and NT-3 oppose one another in regulating the dendritic growth of pyramidal neurons. In layer 4, both endogenous and exogenous NT-3 inhibited the dendritic growth stimulated by BDNF. In contrast, in layer 6 both endogenous and exogenous BDNF inhibited dendritic growth stimulated by NT-3. These antagonistic actions of endogenous BDNF and NT-3 provide a mechanism by which dendritic growth and retraction can be dynamically regulated during cortical development, and suggest that the multiple neurotrophins expressed in developing cortex represent distinct components of an extracellular signaling system for regulating dendritic growth.