Changes occur in the synthesis and axonal transport of neuronal proteins in dorsal-root ganglia axons as a result of contact with cells from the spinal cord during synapse formation. Dorsal-root ganglia cells were cultured in a compartmental cel culture system that allows separate access to neuronal cell bodies and their axons. When cells from the ventral spinal cord were cultured with the dorsal-root ganglia axons, synapses were established within a few days. Metabolic labeling and two-dimensional electrophoresis revealed that four of more than 300 axonal proteins had changed in their expression by the time synapses were established. The highly selective nature of these changes suggests that the proteins involved may be important in the processes of axon growth and synapse formation and their regulation by the regional environment.