MHC class I molecules (MHC-I) have been implicated in nervous system development in the mouse. In this study we present evidence for the interaction of MHC-I with the NK cell receptor Ly49 in primary cortical neuronal cultures. We show that MHC-I and Ly49 are expressed on neuronal soma and axon surfaces, with Ly49 also present on dendrites. Anti-MHC-I Abs reduce synapsin-I expression and enhance neurite outgrowth and neuronal death. Conversely, anti-Ly49 mAbs increase synapsin-I expression, reduce neurite outgrowth, and promote neuron viability. Because we show that Ly49 genes are selectively expressed in the adult brain, these findings suggest an unsuspected role for the MHC-I-Ly49 interaction in the development and function of the brain.