Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) is a potent and multifunctional neurotrophic factor that can influence neuronal survival and differentiation. It has been shown to modulate growth and orientation of neuritic processes both in intact organs and in neuronal cultures, with a wide spectrum of effects on different preparations. Here we report that it promotes neurite growth in developing parasympathetic neurons from the chick ciliary ganglion. We have used both organotypic cultures and dissociated neurons, and we have combined assessment of global neurite growth by immunocytochemical techniques with evaluation of dynamic parameters of single neurites via time-lapse microscopy. We show that laminin, a molecule of the extracellular matrix that has been associated with stimulation of neurite extension, has only a limited and short-lived effect on neurite outgrowth. In contrast, bFGF can promote global growth of the neuritic network both in whole ganglia and in dissociated cultures for times up to 48 hr, and this effect is related to an increase in the growth rate of single neurites. Moreover, the effect can be observed even in enriched neuronal cultures, pointing to a direct action of bFGF on neurons. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.