Post-transcriptional gene regulation is prevalent in the nervous system, where multiple tiers of regulatory complexity contribute to the development and function of highly specialized cell types. Whole-genome studies in Drosophila have identified several hundred genes containing long 3' extensions in neural tissues. We show that ELAV (embryonic-lethal abnormal visual system) is a key mediator of these neural-specific extensions. Misexpression of ELAV results in the ectopic synthesis of long messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in transgenic embryos. RNA immunoprecipitation assays suggest that ELAV directly binds the proximal polyadenylation signals of many target mRNAs. Finally, ELAV is sufficient to suppress 3' end formation at a strong polyadenylation signal when tethered to a synthetic RNA. We propose that this mechanism for coordinating 3' UTR extension may be generally used in a variety of cellular processes.