We have identified and chromatographically purified an axonally secreted glycoprotein of CNS and PNS neurons. Several peptides derived from it were microsequenced. Based on these sequences, a fragment of the corresponding cDNA was amplified and used as a probe to isolate a full length cDNA from a chicken brain cDNA library. Because the deduced amino acid sequence qualified the protein as a novel member of the serpin family of serine protease inhibitors, we called it neuroserpin. Analysis of the primary structural features further characterized neuroserpin as a heparin-independent, functional inhibitor of a trypsin-like serine protease. In situ hybridization revealed a predominantly neuronal expression during the late stages of neurogenesis and in the adult brain in regions which exhibit synaptic plasticity. Thus, neuroserpin might function as an axonally secreted regulator of the local extracellular proteolysis involved in the reorganization of the synaptic connectivity during development and synapse plasticity in the adult.