It has been shown that peroxisome proliferators-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) is beneficial for central nervous system injury. However its role on optic nerve injury remains unknown. In the present study, we examined the change of PPARγ expression in rat retina following optic nerve injury and investigated the effect of pioglitazone (Pio), a PPARγ agonist, on retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) neuroprotection using a rat optic nerve crush (ONC) model. Our results showed that PPARγ mRNA and protein levels were increased after ONC, and most of PPARγ-immunoreactive cells colocalized with Müller cells. Pio treatment significantly enhanced the number of surviving RGCs and inhibited RGCs apoptosis induced by ONC. However, when PPARγ antagonist GW9662 was used, these neuroprotective effects were abolished. In addition, pio attenuated Müller cell activation after ONC. These results indicate that PPARγ appears to protect RGCs from ONC possibly via the reduction of Müller glial activation. It provides evidence that activation of PPARγ may be a potential alternative treatment for RGCs neuroprotection.