Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) have been identified as survival factors for adult axotomized rat corticospinal neurons (CSN) in vivo. Axotomy of corticospinal neurons at the level of the internal capsule induced death of 46% of the CSN within the first week after axotomy. The surviving population of CSN displayed severe atrophy with mean cross-sectional area 49% of their unlesioned contralateral counterparts 7 days after axotomy. Using in situ hybridization to assess the expression of the receptors for the family of neurotrophins, we found trkB and trkC but not trkA mRNA expression in CSN. Intraparenchymal application of BDNF or NT-3 at doses of 12 μg/day for 7 days via an osmotic minipump fully prevented the axotomy-induced death of CSN. Interestingly, no neuronal atrophy was seen after BDNF application while NT-3 had only a partial effect on the size of the axotomized CSN. Nerve growth factor did not prevent death or cell atrophy, consistent with the lack of trkA mRNA expression in these neurons. These findings show that BDNF and NT-3 are survival factors for adult rat CSN in vivo, and may contribute to the development of therapeutic strategies aiming at the prevention of CSN degeneration in human motor neuron diseases.