The ability of neurons in the central nervous system (CNS) to grow through a lesion and restore conduction has been analysed in developing spinal cord in vitro. The preparation consists of the entire CNS of embryonic rat, isolated and maintained in culture. Conduction of electrical activity and normal morphological appearance (light microscopical and electron microscopical) were maintained in the spinal cord of such preparations for up to 7 d in culture. A complete transverse crush of the spinal cord abolished all conduction for 2 d. After 3-5 d, clear recovery had occurred: electrical conduction across the crush was comparable with that in uninjured preparations. Furthermore, the spinal cord had largely regained its gross normal appearance at the crush site. Axons stained in vivo by carbocyanine dyes had, by 5 d, grown in profusion through the lesion and several millimetres beyond it. These experiments, like those made in neonatal opossum (Treherne et al. 1992) demonstrate that central neurons of immature mammals, unlike those in adults, can respond to injury by rapid and extensive outgrowth of nerve fibres in the absence of peripheral nerve bridges or antibodies that neutralize inhibitory factors. However, unlike the opossum, in which outgrowth occurred at 24 degrees C, although there was prolonged survival of rat spinal cords at this temperature, outgrowth of axons across the lesion required a temperature of 29 degrees C. With rapid and reliable regeneration in vitro it becomes practicable to assay the effects of molecules that promote or inhibit restoration of functional connections.