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Many developing insect neurones pass through a phase when they respond to nitric oxide (NO) by producing cyclic GMP. Studies on identified grasshopper motoneurones show that this NO sensitivity appears after the growth cone has arrived at its target but before it has started to send out branches. NO sensitivity typically ends as synaptogenesis is nearing completion. Data from interneurones and sensory neurones are also consistent with the hypothesis that NO sensitivity appears as a developing neurone changes from axonal outgrowth to maturation and synaptogenesis. Cyclic GMP likely constitutes part of a retrograde signalling pathway between a neurone and its synaptic partner. NO sensitivity also appears in some mature neurones at times when they may be undergoing synaptic rearrangement. Comparative studies on other insects indicate that the association between an NO-sensitive guanylate cyclase and synaptogenesis is an ancient one, as evidenced by its presence in both ancient and more recently evolved insect groups.