Neurons undergoing targeted photolytic cell death degenerate by apoptosis. Clonal, multipotent neural precursor cells were transplanted into regions of adult mouse neocortex undergoing selective degeneration of layer II/III pyramidal neurons via targeted photolysis. These precursors integrated into the regions of selective neuronal death; 15 +/- 7% differentiated into neurons with many characteristics of the degenerated pyramidal neurons. They extended axons and dendrites and established afferent synaptic contacts. In intact and kainic acid-lesioned control adult neocortex, transplanted precursors differentiated exclusively into glia. These results suggest that the microenvironmental alterations produced by this synchronous apoptotic neuronal degeneration in adult neocortex induced multipotent neural precursors to undergo neuronal differentiation which ordinarily occurs only during embryonic corticogenesis. Studying the effects of this defined microenvironmental perturbation on the differentiation of clonal neural precursors may facilitate identification of factors involved in commitment and differentiation during normal development. Because photolytic degeneration simulates some mechanisms underlying apoptotic neurodegenerative diseases, these results also suggest the possibility of neural precursor transplantation as a potential cell replacement or molecular support therapy for some diseases of neocortex, even in the adult.