In peripheral nerves, the function of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) is not related to hydrolysis of acetylcholine. To test for a trophic role, AChE or its inhibitors were administered locally to normal and regenerating nerves of rats. In the normal nerve, neither AChE nor serum albumin affected the cytological pattern of the nerve. BW284c51, a specific inhibitor of AChE, resulted in demyelination, proliferation of Schwann cells and sprouting of axons after 5–7 days. Edrophonium or propidium, other specific inhibitors of AChE, did so to a much lesser extent. Vehicle, and iso-OMPA (inhibitor of pseudocholinesterases) did not affect the cytology of the nerve. Elongation of regenerating axons was evaluated at day 3 post-crush. Native AChE applied distal to the crush reduced the elongation of regenerating axons (– 36%), while serum albumin, heated AChE and filtered AChE did not. BW284c51, edrophonium or propidium enhanced the axonal elongation (33%) when they were administered for 2 days before, but not after, the crush. Iso-OMPA or vehicle administered before or after the crush were not effective. Thus, AChE reduces elongation of regenerating axons, while inhibition of AChE enhances elongation and affects the cytology of the normal nerve as well. We propose that AChE has a trophic role in mammalian peripheral nerves.