The insulin-like growth factors (IGF-I and IGF-II) and their receptors are widely expressed in nervous tissue from early embryonic life. They also cross the blood brain barriers by active transport, and their regulation as endocrine factors therefore differs from other tissues. In brain, IGFs have paracrine and autocrine actions that are modulated by IGF-binding proteins and interact with other growth factor signalling pathways. The IGF system has roles in nervous system development and maintenance. There is substantial evidence for a specific role for this system in some neurodegenerative diseases, and neuroprotective actions make this system an attractive target for new therapeutic approaches. In developing new therapies, interaction with IGF-binding proteins and other growth factor signalling pathways should be considered. This evidence is reviewed, gaps in knowledge are highlighted, and recommendations are made for future research.