The contribution of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan (CSPG) in the suppression of axonal growth in rat spinal cord has been examined by means of an in vitro bioassay in which regenerating neurons are grown on tissue section substrata. Dissociated embryonic chick dorsal root ganglionic neurons were grown on normal and injured adult spinal cord tissue sections treated with chondroitinases. Neuritic growth on normal spinal cord tissue was meager. However, both the percentage of neurons with neurites and the average neurite length were substantially greater on sections treated with chondroitinase ABC. Enzymes that specifically degraded dermatan sulfate or hyaluronan were ineffective. Neuritic growth was significantly greater on injured (compared to normal) spinal cord and a further dramatic increase resulted from chondroitinase ABC treatment. Neurites grew equally within white and gray matter regions after chondroitinase treatment. Observed increases in neurite outgrowth on chondroitinase-treated tissues were largely inhibited in the presence of function-blocking laminin antibodies. These findings indicate that inhibitory CSPG is widely distributed and predominant in both normal and injured spinal cord tissues. Additionally, inhibitory CSPG is implicated in negating the potential stimulatory effects of laminin that might otherwise support spinal cord regeneration.