The stability of neuronal networks is thought to depend on synaptic transmission which provides activity-dependent maintenance signals for both synapses and neurons. Here, we tested the relationship between presynaptic secretion and neuronal maintenance using munc18-1-null mutant mice as a model. These mutants have a specific defect in secretion from synaptic and large dense-cored vesicles [Verhage et al. (2000), Science, 287, 864-869; Voets et al. (2001), Neuron, 31, 581-591]. Neuronal networks in these mutants develop normally up to synapse formation but eventually degenerate. The proposed relationship between secretion and neuronal maintenance was tested in low-density and organotypic cultures and, in vivo, by conditional cell-specific inactivation of the munc18-1 gene. Dissociated munc18-1-deficient neurons died within 4 days in vitro (DIV). Application of trophic factors, insulin or BDNF delayed degeneration up to 7 DIV. In organotypic cultures, munc18-1-deficient neurons survived until 9 DIV. On glial feeders, these neurons survived up to 10 DIV and 14 DIV when insulin was applied. Co-culturing dissociated mutant neurons with wild-type neurons did not prolong survival beyond 4 DIV, but coculturing mutant slices with wild-type slices prolonged survival up to 19 DIV. Cell-specific deletion of munc18-1 expression in cerebellar Purkinje cells in vivo resulted in the specific loss of these neurons without affecting connected or surrounding neurons. Together, these data allow three conclusions. First, the lack of synaptic activity cannot explain the degeneration in munc18-1-null mutants. Second, trophic support delays but cannot prevent degeneration. Third, a cell-intrinsic yet unknown function of munc18-1 is essential for prolonged survival.