Growth cones are powerful amplifiers for signals from the microenvironment. Their collapse can be triggered by cell surface components of myelin and brain membranes, as well as by soluble ligands, including neurotransmitters. GAP-43 is a protein concentrated on the inner surface of the growth cone membrane. Assayed in isolation, it interacts with the heterotrimeric protein, G(o), and in oocytes it amplifies the effects of ligand-triggered G protein activation. We wished to examine whether GAP-43 serves to amplify signals at the growth cone. The G(o) stimulating region of GAP-43 is encoded in the 10 amino acids (MLCCMRRT-KQ) of the first exon. We examined the effect of this peptide upon chick dorsal root ganglion growth cone collapse and neurite retraction triggered by brain membranes or myelin, as well as by serotonin. We find that application of the GAP-43 1-10 peptide amplifies the effects of all three ligands. The amplification is greater when GAP-43 1-10 is injected intracellularly. Peptides with amino acid substitutions for the two cysteine residues manifest parallel changes in growth cone collapse and G(o) stimulation. In particular, tyrosine or methionine substitutions cause the peptide to inhibit G(o) and to block induced growth cone collapse. The GAP-43 peptides therefore regulate the sensitivity of growth cones to extrinsic signals. The modified peptides serve as a starting point for the design of reagents to enhance CNS regeneration.