An ideal therapeutic for stroke or spinal cord injury should promote survival and regeneration in the CNS. Arginase 1 (Arg1) has been shown to protect motor neurons from trophic factor deprivation and allow sensory neurons to overcome neurite outgrowth inhibition by myelin proteins. To identify small molecules that capture Arg1's protective and regenerative properties, we screened a hippocampal cell line stably expressing the proximal promoter region of the arginase 1 gene fused to a reporter gene against a library of compounds containing clinically approved drugs. This screen identified daidzein as a transcriptional inducer of Arg1. Both CNS and PNS neurons primed in vitro with daidzein overcame neurite outgrowth inhibition from myelin-associated glycoprotein, which was mirrored by acutely dissociated and cultured sensory neurons primed in vivo by intrathecal or subcutaneous daidzein infusion. Further, daidzein was effective in promoting axonal regeneration in vivo in an optic nerve crush model when given intraocularly without lens damage, or most importantly, when given subcutaneously after injury. Mechanistically, daidzein requires transcription and induction of Arg1 activity for its ability to overcome myelin inhibition. In contrast to canonical Arg1 activators, daidzein increases Arg1 without increasing CREB phosphorylation, suggesting its effects are cAMP-independent. Accordingly, it may circumvent known CNS side effects of some cAMP modulators. Indeed, daidzein appears to be safe as it has been widely consumed in soy products, crosses the blood - brain barrier, and is effective without pretreatment, making it an ideal candidate for development as a therapeutic for spinal cord injury or stroke. Copyright © 2010 the authors.