The identification of neurotrophic factors ameliorating secondary neuronal death in the mammalian CNS has raised hopes for improved treatment strategies in neurodegenerative diseases, CNS trauma and ischemia. Glial cell-line derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) has potent neuroprotective properties in both the CNS and PNS. We sought to investigate whether GDNF exerts survival promoting effects on axotomized retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in the adult rat in vivo. Transection of the optic nerve induces delayed retrograde death of approximately 85% of RGCs within 14 days. Intraocular GDNF rescued 21% of the RGCs which would otherwise have died after axotomy (34% of the normal control population), thereby extending the group of neuronal populations responsive to GDNF.