The extracellular matrix (ECM) molecules chondroitin-6-sulfate proteoglycan (CS-PG) and cytotactin/tenascin (CT), present on subpopulations of astroglia or their precursors during development, can inhibit neurite outgrowth in vitro. However, it is not known whether these molecules are expressed within the mature CNS following injury, where they could contribute to regenerative failure. Thus, the expression of various ECM molecules that affect axon growth was examined in areas of reactive gliosis caused by implanting a piece of nitrocellulose into the cortex of neonatal and adult animals. The expression of these molecules was compared to the amount of neurite outgrowth that occurred in vitro when the damaged CNS tissue from animals of various ages was removed intact and used as a substrate in explant culture. The results demonstrate that the growth-promoting molecules laminin, collagen type IV, and fibronectin were present around the implant in all experimental groups. In comparison, CS-PG and CT were present within and around the area of the lesion only in adult animals. In vivo, these molecules were colocalized with intensely glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-positive astrocytes in and immediately adjacent to the scar, but not with other equally intensely GFAP- positive astrocytes in the cortex away from the site of injury. CT and CS-PG were present in gray matter areas of the cortex that had been directly damaged during the implant procedure and in the corpus callosum when lesioned during implantation. In vitro, the glial tissue removed from the lesion site of neonatal animals supported neurite outgrowth, while scars removed from adult animals did not. The inability of the adult glial scar tissue to support neurite outgrowth was best correlated with the expression of CS-PG and CT, suggesting that these molecules may be involved in limiting the growth of regenerating axons in the CNS after injury.