This study examines the cell body response to axotomy of retinal ganglion cells in the frog Rana pipiens. Cell soma sizes were measured in carefully matched regions of Nissl-stained wholemounted retinae after either nerve crush, nerve cut with stump separation, nerve crush with intraocular nerve growth factor (NGF) or nerve cut with NGF applied to the proximal stump. The state of axonal regeneration was also assessed in each case by anterograde transport of HRP. Following nerve crush axons crossed the lesion by 7 days, reached the chiasma by 14 days and entered the tectum around 20-30 days. The normally evenly stained ganglion cells exhibited granular Nissl staining at 7 and 10 days but very little change in soma size. From 10 to 28 days the mean retinal ganglion cell area increased by 102% and maintained this size until at least 75 days. By 102 days soma size had nearly returned to normal. A population of displaced amacrine cells retained a normal appearance and soma size throughout regeneration. Following nerve cut and stump separation the retinal ganglion cells were slightly more reactive in appearance at 7 days after crush but otherwise the soma reaction developed in a similar manner. Axon tracing revealed no extension beyond the lesion site in these animals and therefore the state of axonal growth did not affect the early soma response. NGF applied at the time of the lesion had no detectable effect on the soma reaction. Although many retinal ganglion cells re-establish contact with visual centres after axotomy in the frog, a considerable proportion die. This contrasts with both the goldfish, where all cells regenerate successfully, and various mammals, where none do so and all retinal ganglion cells die. All retinal ganglion cells in the frog undergo reactive changes similar to those of goldfish and there is no sign of the cell shrinkage seen in mammals. Therefore the cell death in frog would appear to be different from that in mammalian retina but similar to that of mammalian peripheral nerve in which chromatolysis generally preceeds death.