Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) has been postulated to be a specific dopaminergic neurotrophic factor since it selectively enhances the survival of dopaminergic neurones in vitro. We report here that GDNF can also act as a neurotrophic factor for motoneurones. GDNF released by GDNF-transfected BHK cells increases the activity of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) in cultures from embryonic rat ventral mesencephalon containing cholinergic neurones from cranial motor nuclei and in cultured spinal motoneurones. Furthermore, local application of polymer-encapsulated BHK cells releasing GDNF to transected facial nerve in newborn rats diminishes the death of motoneurones normally occurring after axotomy in the neonatal period. The present results indicate that GDNF may have a therapeutic potential in human motoneurone diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.