The present study aimed to determine whether intravitreal administration of an adeno-associated virus (AAV) carrying ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF) can achieve long-term morphological and physiological rescue of photoreceptors in animal models of retinitis pigmentosa, and whether injection of this virus after degeneration begins is effective in protecting the remaining photoreceptors. We injected rAAV.CNTF.GFP intravitreally in early postnatal Prph2Rd2/Rd2 (formerly rds/rds) mice and in adult P23H and S334ter rhodopsin transgenic rats. Contralateral eyes received an intravitreal injection of rAAV.GFP or a sham injection. We evaluated the eyes at 6 months (rats) and 8.5 to 9 months (mice) postinfection and looked for histological and electoretinographic (ERG) evidence of photoreceptor rescue and CNTF-GFP expression. Intravitreal administration of rAAV resulted in efficient transduction of retinal ganglion cells in the Prph2Rd2/Rd2 retina, and ganglion, Muller, and horizontal/amacrine cells in the mutant rat retinas. Transgene expression localized to the retinal region closest to the injection site. We observed prominent morphological protection of photoreceptors in the eyes of all animals receiving rAAV.CNTF.GFP. We found the greatest protection in regions most distant from the CNTF-GFP-expressing cells. The Prph2Rd2/Rd2 ERGs did not exhibit interocular differences. Eyes of the rat models administered rAAV.CNTF.GFP had lower ERG amplitudes than those receiving rAAV.GFP. The discordance of functional and structural results, especially in the rat models, points to the need for a greater understanding of the mechanism of action of CNTF before human application can be considered.