Chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans display both inhibitory and stimulatory effects on cell adhesion and neurite outgrowth in vitro. The functional activity of these proteoglycans appears to be context specific and dependent on the presence of different chondroitin sulfate-binding molecules. Little is known about the role of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans in the growth and guidance of axons in vivo. To address this question, we examined the effects of exogenous soluble chondroitin sulfates on the growth and guidance of axons arising from a subpopulation of neurons in the vertebrate brain which express NOC-2, a novel glycoform of the neural cell adhesion molecule N-CAM. Intact brains of stage 28 Xenopus embryos were unilaterally exposed to medium containing soluble exogenous chondroitin sulfates. When exposed to chondroitin sulfate, NOC-2(+) axons within the tract of the postoptic commissure failed to follow their normal trajectory across the ventral midline via the ventral commissure in the midbrain. Instead, these axons either stalled or grew into the dorsal midbrain or continued growing longitudinally within the ventral longitudinal tract. These findings suggest that chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans indirectly modulate the growth and guidance of a subpopulation of forebrain axons by regulating either matrix-bound or cell surface cues at specific choice points within the developing vertebrate brain.