Cerebellar Purkinje cells degenerate in shaker mutant rats. Glia cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) was chronically infused intraventricularly in an attempt to rescue mutant Purkinje cells from dying. Four weeks of chronic GDNF infusion delayed the degeneration of many but not all Purkinje cells. Surviving Purkinje cells formed spatially related groups interrupted by other groups of degenerated Purkinje cells. There was a positive correlation in GDNF-supported Purkinje cell survival and persistence of normal motor behaviors.