Retinitis pigmentosa (RP), an inherited retinal degenerative disease causing blindness, is characterized by progressive apoptotic death of photoreceptors. Therapeutic modification of photoreceptor apoptosis may provide an effective therapy for this disorder. Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) has been shown to promote survival of a number of different neuronal cell types, including photoreceptors. The present study aimed to test whether adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated delivery of the gene encoding CNTF delays photoreceptor death in the rhodopsin knockout (opsin-/-) mouse, an animal model of RP. The vector was made to express a secretable form of CNTF in tandem with a marker GFP. Cultured 293 cells transduced with this virus expressed both CNTF and GFP. The conditioned media from such cells supported the survival of chick dorsal root ganglion neurons in the same manner as recombinant CNTF. Subretinal administration of this virus led to efficient transduction of photoreceptors as indicated by GFP fluorescence and CNTF immunostaining. Histologic examination showed significant photoreceptor preservation in the injected quadrant of the retina. This protection lasted through termination of the experiment (3 months). AAV-mediated delivery of CNTF may have implications for the treatment of human retinal degeneration.