Nerve growth factor binds to the TrkA and p75(NTR) (p75) and generates signals leading to neuronal cell survival, differentiation, and programmed cell death. Here we describe a series of experiments involving selective activation of either TrkA or p75 in which distinct cell-signaling intermediates promote different cellular consequences. We analyzed pheochromocytoma 12 (PC12) cells stably expressing chimeras consisting of the extracellular domain of PDGF receptor (PDGFR) fused to the transmembrane and cytoplasmic segments of p75 or TrkA. Because PC12 cells lack endogenous PDGFR, addition of PDGF to these cell lines permits selective activation of the p75 or TrkA responses without stimulating endogenous receptors. Although both p75 and TrkA activated nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB), we show that distinct proximal-signaling intermediates are used by each receptor. A dominant-negative mutant of TRAF6 blocked p75- but not TrkA-mediated induction of NF-kappaB. Conversely a dominant-negative mutant of Shc inhibited TrkA but not p75 activation of NF-kappaB. Both of these distinct signaling pathways subsequently converge, leading to activation of the IkappaB kinase complex. Moreover, the activation of NF-kappaB by these distinct pathways after stimulation of either TrkA or p75 leads to different physiological consequences. Blocking p75-mediated activation of NF-kappaB by ecdysone-inducible expression of a nondegradable mutant of IkappaBalpha significantly enhanced apoptosis. In contrast, blocking NF-kappaB induction via TrkA significantly inhibited neurite process formation in PC12 cells. Together these findings indicate that, although both of these receptors lead to the activation of NF-kappaB, they proceed via distinct proximal-signaling intermediates and contribute to different cellular outcomes.