We used a gene therapy approach in transgenic mice to assess the cooperative effects of combining anti-apoptotic and growth-promoting stimuli on adult retinal ganglion cell (RGC) survival and axonal regeneration following intraorbital optic nerve injury. Bi-cistronic adeno-associated viral vectors encoding a secretable form of ciliary neurotrophic factor and green fluorescent protein (AAV-CNTF-GFP) were injected into eyes of mice that had been engineered to over-express the anti-apoptotic protein bcl-2. For comparison this vector was also injected into wildtype (wt) mice, and both mouse strains were injected with control AAV encoding GFP. Five weeks after optic nerve injury we confirmed that bcl-2 over-expression by itself promoted the survival of axotomized RGCs, but in contrast to previous reports we also saw regeneration of some mature RGC axons beyond the optic nerve crush. AAV-mediated expression of CNTF in adult retinas significantly increased the survival and axonal regeneration of RGCs following axotomy in wt and bcl-2 transgenic mice; however, the effects were greatest in the transgenic strain. Compared with AAV-GFP-injected bcl-2 mice, RGC viability was increased by about 50% (mean, 36 738 RGCs per retina), and over 1000 axons per optic nerve regenerated 1-1.5 mm beyond the crush. These findings exemplify the importance of using a multifactorial therapeutic approach that enhances both neuroprotection and regeneration after central nervous system injury.