The role of localized instability of the actin network in specifying axonal fate was examined with the use of rat hippocampal neurons in culture. During normal neuronal development, actin dynamics and instability polarized to a single growth cone before axon formation. Consistently, global application of actin-depolymerizing drugs and of the Rho-signaling inactivator toxin B to nonpolarized cells produced neurons with multiple axons. Moreover, disruption of the actin network in one individual growth cone induced its neurite to become the axon. Thus, local instability of the actin network restricted to a single growth cone is a physiological signal specifying neuronal polarization.