The extensive lengths of neuronal processes necessitate efficient mechanisms for communication with the cell body. Neuronal regeneration after nerve injury requires new transcription; thus, long-distance retrograde signalling from axonal lesion sites to the soma and nucleus is required. In recent years, considerable progress has been made in elucidating the mechanistic basis of this system. This has included the discovery of a priming role for early calcium waves; confirmation of central roles for mitogen-activated protein kinase signalling effectors, the importin family of nucleocytoplasmic transport factors and molecular motors such as dynein; and demonstration of the importance of local translation as a key regulatory mechanism. These recent findings provide a coherent mechanistic framework for axon-soma communication in the injured nerve and shed light on the integration of cytoplasmic and nuclear transport in all eukaryotic cells.