In some parts of the CNS, depletion of a particular class of neuron might induce changes in the microenvironment that influence the differentiation of newly grafted neural precursor cells. This hypothesis was tested in the retina by inducing apoptotic retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death in neonatal and adult female mice and examining whether intravitreally grafted male neural precursor cells (C17.2), a neural stem cell (NSC)-like clonal line, become incorporated into these selectively depleted retinae. In neonates, rapid RGC death was induced by removal of the contralateral superior colliculus (SC), in adults, delayed RGC death was induced by unilateral optic nerve (ON) transection. Cells were injected intravitreally 6-48 h after SC ablation (neonates) or 0-7 days after ON injury (adults). Cells were also injected into non-RGC depleted neonatal and adult retinae. At 4 or 8 weeks, transplanted cells were identified using a Y-chromosome marker and in situ hybridisation or by their expression of the lacZ reporter gene product Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase (beta-gal). No C17.2 cells were identified in axotomised adult-injected eyes undergoing delayed RGC apoptosis (n = 16). Donor cells were however stably integrated within the retina in 29% (15/55) of mice that received C17.2 cell injections 24 h after neonatal SC ablation; 6-31% of surviving cells were found in the RGC layer (GCL). These NSC-like cells were also present in intact retinae, but on average, there were fewer cells in GCL. In SC-ablated mice, most grafted cells did not express retinal-specific markers, although occasional donor cells in the GCL were immunopositive for beta-III tubulin, a protein highly expressed by, but not specific to, developing RGCs. Targeted rapid RGC depletion thus increased cell incorporation into the GCL, but grafted C17.2 cells did not appear to differentiate into an RGC phenotype.