In the nervous system, receptor regulated phosphoinositide (PI) 3-kinases (PI 3-kinases) participate in fundamental cellular activities that underlie development. Activated by trophic factors, growth factors, neuregulins, cytokines, or neurotransmitters, PI 3-kinases have been implicated in neuronal and glial survival and differentiation. PI 3-kinases produce inositol lipid second messengers that bind to pleckstrin homology (PH) domains in diverse groups of signal transduction proteins, and control their enzymatic activities, subcellular membrane localization, or both. Downstream targets of the inositol lipid messengers include protein kinases and regulators of small GTPases. The kinase Akt/PKB functions as a key component of the PI 3-kinase dependent survival pathway through its phosphorylation and regulation of apoptotic proteins and transcription factors. Furthermore, since members of the Rho GTPase and Arf GTPase families have been implicated in regulation of the actin cytoskeleton, vesicular trafficking, and transcription, the downstream targets of PI 3-kinase that control these GTPases are excellent candidates to mediate aspects of PI 3-kinase dependent neuronal and glial differentiation. © 2002 ISDN. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.