Interactions between neurons and their targets of innervation influence many aspects of neural development. To examine how synaptic activity interacts with neurotrophic signaling, we determined the effects of blocking neuromuscular transmission on survival and axonal outgrowth of ciliary neurons from the embryonic chicken ciliary ganglion. Ciliary neurons undergo a period of cell loss due to programmed cell death between embryonic Days (E) 8 and 14 and they innervate the striated muscle of the iris. The nicotinic antagonist d-tubocurarine (dTC) induces an increase in branching measured by counting neurofilament-positive voxels (NF-VU) in the iris between E14-17 while reducing ciliary neuron survival. Blocking ganglionic transmission with dihyro-?-erythroidin and ?-methyllycacontine does not mimic dTC. At E8, many trophic factors stimulate neurite outgrowth and branching of neurons placed in cell culture; however, at E13, only GDNF stimulates branching selectively in cultured ciliary neurons. The GDNF-induced branching at E13 could be inhibited by BDNF. Blocking ret signaling in vivo with a dominant negative (dn)ret decreases survival of ciliary and choroid neurons at E14 and prevents dTC induced increases in NF-VU in the iris at E17. Blocking TRKB signaling with dn TRKB increases NF-VU in the iris at E17 and decreases neuronal survival at E17, but not at E14. Thus, RET promotes survival during programmed cell death in the ciliary ganglion and contributes to promoting branching when synaptic transmission is blocked while TRKB inhibits branching and promotes maintenance of neuronal survival. These studies highlight the multifunctional nature of trophic molecule function during neuronal development.