The number, size, and staining intensity of choline acetyltransferase (ChAT)-immunopositive cells in the retrodorsal lateral nucleus (RDLN) of the spinal cord were studied in young (3-5 months old) and aged (22-24 months old) rats following left sciatic nerve distal transection (axotomy) and treatment with GM1 ganglioside. The cell size and the ChAT immunostaining density were decreased in the RDLN of non-manipulated as well as in the contralateral intact side of axotomized aged rats. Axotomy had no effect on the number of RDLN motoneurons in both aged and young rats. In the young rats, there was a decrease in the size of motoneurons 7 days post-axotomy and a partial spontaneous recovery occurred by 21 days. Axotomy did not reduce further the size of aged motoneurons, however. The ChAT staining intensity of the axotomized RDLN declined in both age groups after 7 days, and there was spontaneous near normal recovery by 21 days. In the aged rats, GM1 administration for 7 days corrected the cell size and ChAT immunoreactivity of the contralateral intact RDLN. With regard to axotomized RDLN neurons, 7 days of GM1 restored the cell size but not the ChAT immunostaining in young animals. The same treatment schedule, however, corrected both cell size and staining in aged rats. Administration of GM1 for 21 days had no further effect on the morphometric parameters of the axotomized motoneurons in aged rats, but slightly enhanced the recovery of ChAT immunostaining in young rats. Thus, it appears that GM1 facilitates the phenotypic recovery of RDLN motoneurons during aging and after axotomy.