Nell2 is a neuron-specific protein containing six epidermal growth factor-like domains. We have identified Nell2 as a retinal ganglion cell (RGC)-expressed gene by comparing mRNA profiles of control and RGC-deficient rat retinas. The aim of this study was to analyze Nell2 expression in wild-type and optic nerve axotomized retinas and evaluate its potential role in RGCs. Nell2-positive in situ and immunohistochemical signals were localized to irregularly shaped cells in the ganglion cell layer (GCL) and colocalized with retrogradely-labeled RGCs. No Nell2-positive cells were detected in 2 weeks optic nerve transected (ONT) retinas characterized with approximately 90% RGC loss. RT-PCR analysis showed a dramatic decrease in the Nell2 mRNA level after ONT compared to the controls. Immunoblot analysis of the Nell2 expression in the retina revealed the presence of two proteins with approximate MW of 140 and 90 kDa representing glycosylated and non-glycosylated Nell2, respectively. Both products were almost undetectable in retinal protein extracts two weeks after ONT. Proteome analysis of Nell2-interacting proteins carried out with MALDI-TOF MS (MS) identified microtubule-actin crosslinking factor 1 (Macf1), known to be critical in CNS development. Strong Macf1 expression was observed in the inner plexiform layer and GCL where it was colocalizied with Thy-1 staining. Since Nell2 has been reported to increase neuronal survival of the hippocampus and cerebral cortex, we evaluated the effect of Nell2 overexpression on RGC survival. RGCs in the nasal retina were consistently more efficiently transfected than in other areas (49% vs. 13%; n = 5, p<0.05). In non-transfected or pEGFP-transfected ONT retinas, the loss of RGCs was approximately 90% compared to the untreated control. In the nasal region, Nell2 transfection led to the preservation of approximately 58% more cells damaged by axotomy compared to non-transfected (n = 5, p<0.01) or pEGFP-transfected controls (n = 5, p<0.01).