Neurons in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS) have a poor capacity for regenerating their axons after injury. In contrast, neurons in the CNS of lower vertebrates and in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) of mammals are endowed with a high posttraumatic capacity to regenerate. The differences in regenerative capacity have been attributed to the different compositions of the respective cellular environments and to different responses to injury the nonneuronal cells display, which range from supportive and permissive to nonsupportive and hostile for regeneration. The same cell type may support or inhibit regeneration, depending on its state of maturity or differentiation. Astrocytes and oligodendrocytes are examples of cells in which such a dichotomy is manifested. In developing and in spontaneously regenerating nerves, these cells support (astrocytes) and permit (oligodendrocytes) growth. However, in nonregenerating adult mammalian nerves, astrocytes form the nonsupportive scar tissue; and the mature oligodendrocytes inhibit axonal growth. Maturation of these cells may be regulated differently during development than after injury. Among the putative regulators are factors derived from astrocytes, resident microglia; or cytokines produced by macrophages. During development, regulation leads to a temporal separation between axonal growth and maturation of the cellular environment, which might not occur spontaneously after injury in a nonregenerating CNS without intervention at the appropriate time. Data suggest that temporal intervention aimed at the glial cells might enhance the poor regenerative capacity of the mammalian CNS. Possible regulation of the nonneuronal cell response to injury via involvement of protooncogenes is proposed.