In the absence of descending spinal and supraspinal afferent inputs, neurons in the developing lumbar spinal cord of the chick embryo undergo regressive changes including cellular atrophy and degeneration between embryonic days 10 and 16. There are significant decreases in the number of motoneurons, interneurons, and sensory (dorsal root ganglion) neurons. Although there are several possible explanations for how afferents might regulate the maintenance of neuronal viability, we have focused attention on the putative role of neurotrophic agents in these events. Previous studies have shown that specific tissue extracts (e.g., muscle, brain), soluble proteins, growth factors, and trophic agents can promote the in vitro and in vivo survival of avian motoneurons during the period of natural cell death (embryonic days 6– 10). Several of these agents were also effective following deafferentation. These included brain extract (BEX), muscle extract (MEX), conditioned medium from astrocyte cultures (ACM), as well as the following neurotrophic agents: nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), S-100, insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), platelet- derived growth factor (PDGF), basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF), and leukemia inhibitory factor (CDF/LIF). Both transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) and acidic fibroblast growth factor (aFGF) were ineffective. Although considerable more work is needed to determine which (and how) specific CNS-derived trophic agents regulate motoneuron survival, the present results are consistent with the notion that neurotrophic agents released from or modulated by synaptic inputs to target neurons promote neuronal differentiation and survival in the CNS.