Nodular/desmoplastic medulloblastomas are a well-established histopathological subtype containing reticulin-free nodules or "pale islands' that are comprised of cells with round "neurocytic" nuclei and abundant cytoplasm. Significant neuronal maturation occurs within nodules. We used immunohistochemistry to evaluate neuronal differentiation in the nodules of 6 of these tumors. The neuronal markers NeuN, synaptophysin, and MAP-2 were identified in the "pale islands" of all 6 nodular medulloblastomas examined, and high and medium molecular weight nonphosphorylated neurofilaments were detected in 2 of the 6 cases. We also observed collections of apoptotic cells within nodules. Given the known role of neurotrophin signaling in neuronal maturation and apoptosis, we analyzed immunohistochemically the distribution of neurotrophin receptors TrkA and TrkC and their primary ligands NGF and NT3 in 14 nodular medulloblastomas. TrkA and TrkC were detected in 13 and 10 cases, respectively, and were predominantly localized within nodules. NGF and NT3 were distributed diffusely with some nodular accentuation. The localized expression of Trk receptors within nodules of desmoplastic medulloblastomas suggests neurotrophin signaling is involved in the apoptosis and neuronal differentiation in medulloblastomas. We also examined expression of p53 and BCL-2 in these tumors; both were prominent in internodular regions but only weakly expressed within nodules. Trk receptors, p53, and BCL-2 are all expressed during development of the normal cerebellum. Interestingly, the immunohistochemical expression profile of these proteins in the differentiating nodules of medulloblastomas is in many ways similar to their expression in the developing cerebellum. Thus similar signaling pathways may be operational in cerebellar development and medulloblastoma tumor differentiation.