Regeneration of the human facial nerve after lesion is often limited, leading to severe functional impairments, in particular when repair is delayed for several months, when cross-facial nerve grafts have to be performed, or in elderly patients. To improve the outcome, the potential accelerating and maturating effects of the neurotrophic factors glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) on nerve regeneration were assessed using an axotomy model of the rat facial nerve. One-centimeter-long synthetic guidance channels releasing the neurotrophic factors over several weeks were used to bridge an 8 mm nerve gap, a distance that does not allow regeneration in the absence of growth factors. Nerve cables regenerated in the presence of GDNF showed a large number of myelinated axons 6 weeks after grafting (871 +/- 373, n = 5), whereas only 106 +/- 86 (n = 5) myelinated axons were counted in the presence of NT-3. Retrograde labeling with fluorogold revealed 981 +/- 450 (n = 5) and 53 +/- 38 (n = 5) retrogradely labeled motoneurons in the facial nucleus in the presence of GDNF and NT-3, respectively. No regenerated axons or retrogradely labeled cells were observed in the absence of growth factors (n = 6). These results demonstrate that GDNF, as previously described for the sciatic nerve, a mixed sensory and motor nerve, is also very efficient in promoting regeneration of the facial nerve, an essentially pure motor nerve. GDNF may therefore be useful in improving facial nerve regeneration in the clinic.