While target-derived neurotrophins are required for the survival of developing neurons in the PNS, the functions of neurotrophins in the CNS are unclear. Mice with a targeted gene deletion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) exhibit a wide-based gait. Consistent with this behavioral evidence of cerebellar dysfunction, there is increased death of granule cells, stunted growth of Purkinje cell dendrites, impaired formation of horizontal layers, and defects in the rostral-caudal foliation pattern. These abnormalities are accompanied by decreased Trk activation in granule and Purkinje cells of mutant animals, indicating that both cell types are direct targets for BDNF. These data suggest that BDNF acts as an anterograde or an autocrine-paracrine factor to regulate survival and morphologic differentiation of developing CNS neurons, and thereby affects neural patterning.