Growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) was recently identified as a rejuvenating factor that promoted neurogenesis in aged mice. Previous work has revealed that gdf11 mRNA is expressed in the developing retina, and GDF11 protein can signal retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) to grow dendrites in vitro. The developmental expression pattern of GDF11 in RGCs and the impact of GDF11 on mammalian RGCs remain unknown. The current study investigated 1) the developmental time course of GDF11 expression in RGCs, 2) the effect of GDF11 on RGC survival and axonal growth in vitro, and 3) the mechanisms mediating GDF11 responses in RGCs. Retinae were collected from C57BL/6 wild-type (WT) mice at different developmental stages to evaluate the expression of GDF11 in RGCs. Postnatal RGCs were also cultured in the presence of GDF11 treatment. The results show that GDF11 does not promote axon growth but enhances RGC survival in vitro through activation of pSmad2/3.