The role of protein tyrosine kinase (PTK) activity in the development of the retinal projection was examined in vivo by applying inhibitors of cytoplasmic PTKs, herbimycin A and lavendustin A, to intact brain preparations of Xenopus embryos. The inhibitors were present during the period when retinal ganglion cell axons first navigate through the optic tract to reach their target, the optic tectum. A majority of inhibitor-treated retinal axons stalled at the beginning of the optic tract, leading to an 80% reduction in projection length at the highest doses. All inhibitor-treated axons that did extend into the optic tract exhibited normal pathfinding behavior. Tyrosine kinase assays of inhibitor-treated brains demonstrated that at doses at which retinal axon extension was severely impaired, PTK activity, including that of src family proteins, was reduced by 50–60%. Consistent with the in vivo findings, PTK inhibitors reduced neurite outgrowth from cultured retinal neurons by 70–80%. This contrasts with the strong enhancement of outgrowth induced by the same inhibitors in cultured chick ciliary ganglion neurons and suggests that the mediation of outgrowth by PTK activity may vary in different neuronal types. Inhibitor-treated growth cones cultured on laminin were larger than normal, suggesting that tyrosine phosphorylation can modulate growth cone-substrate adhesive interactions. Our results in vivo and in vitro provide complementary evidence that retinal axon outgrowth is inhibited by pharmacological blockers of PTK activity and indicate that inhibitor-sensitive PTKs normally play a role in promoting retinal neurite extension.