To examine the mechanisms responsible for the more rapid nerve regeneration observed after a previous (conditioning) nerve injury, adult rats were subjected to a midthigh sciatic nerve transection by using one of three protocols designed to facilitate or restrict nerve regeneration: 1) ligation, in which transected axons were prevented from regenerating; 2) cut, in which transected axons were permitted to extend into peripheral target tissue but were separated from the denervated peripheral nerve stump; and 3) crush, in which axons could regenerate normally through the denervated distal nerve tract. The affected dorsal root ganglia (DRG) were subsequently removed, dissociated, and cultured for up to 3 days, and the timing of neurite initiation, rate of outgrowth, and arborization pattern of previously injured neurons were compared with control DRG. Our results indicate that conditioning lesions have at least four distinct and differentially regulated effects on neuronal morphogenesis: 1) conditioning lesions promote earlier neurite initiation, 2) prior nerve injury decreases the ability of neurons to extend long neurites following a second axotomy, 3) exposure to the environment of a denervated peripheral nerve stimulates greater initial rates of neurite outgrowth, and 4) conditioning lesions reduces initial neuritic branching frequency, resulting in straighter neurites whose growth cones extend further distances from their cell bodies. The primary effect of all conditioning lesions on cultured DRG neurons appeared to be to advance the timing of morphogenesis, resulting in conditioning-lesioned neurons that exhibited characteristics consistent with control neurons that had been cultured for an additional day or more. A secondary effect of conditioning lesions on neurite outgrowth rates was dependent on the local environment of the axons prior to culturing.