During neuronal development neurites are likely to be specifically guided to their targets. Within the chicken retina, ganglion cell axons are extended exclusively into the optic fibre layer, but not into the outer retina. We investigated, whether radial glial cells having endfeet at the optic fibre layer and somata in the outer retina, might be involved in neurite guidance. In order to analyse distinct cell surface areas, endfeet and somata of these glial cells were purified. Glial endfeet were isolated from flat mounted retina by a specific detachment procedure. Glial somata were purified by negative selection using a monoclonal antibody/complement mediated cytolysis of all non-glial cells. Retinal tissue strips were explanted either onto pure glial endfeet or onto glial somata. As revealed by scanning and fluorescence microscopy, essentially no ganglion cell axons were evident on glial somata, whereas axonal outgrowth was abundant on glial endfeet. However, when glial somata were heat treated and employed thereafter as the substratum, axon extension was significantly increased. Time-lapse video recording studies indicated that purified cell membranes of glial somata but not of endfeet induced collapse of growth cones. Collapsing activity was destroyed by heat treatment of glial membranes. The collapsing activity of retinal glia was found to be specific for retinal ganglion cell neurites, because growth cones from dorsal root ganglia remained unaffected. Employing four different kinase inhibitors revealed that the investigated protein kinase types were unlikely to be involved in the collapse reaction. The data show for the first time that radial glial cells are functionally polarized having permissive endfeet and inhibitory somata with regard to outgrowing axons. This finding underscores the pivotal role of radial glia in structuring developing nervous systems.