To study the role of nerve growth factor (NGF) in local inflammation, we investigated the expression of NGF and its receptors, trkA and p75, in the ankle joints of adjuvant-induced arthritic rats. Infiltrated mononuclear cells revealed a positive immunoreactivity for NGF and trkA; they were also positive for immunostaining for W3/25 and ED1, which mainly stain T cells and macrophages, respectively. Changes in the ratios of NGF-positive cells to mononuclear cells showed a relatively similar pattern for trkA-positive cells, which peaked at weeks 2 to 3 after the adjuvant injection. In double-immunofluorescence staining, 80% and 65% of NGF-positive cells stained for W3/25 and ED1, respectively. Similarly, 67% and 80% of trkA-positive cells also corresponded to W3/25- and ED1-positive cells, respectively. However, p75 immunoreactivity localized on the nerve fibers but not on the cells of the ankle joints. Dense meshworks of p75-positive nerve fibers with numerous terminal varicosities were observed at weeks 2 to 4. The present findings suggest that infiltrated mononuclear cells may secrete NGF in an autocrine or paracrine manner in the inflamed synovium. An upregulation of NGF in these mononuclear cells and an increase in density of the synovial nerve fibers may be involved in the development of adjuvant arthritis in rats.