The NGF-family of neurotrophic factors are structurally similar peptides with related functional properties. So far, this family of neurotrophic factors has only been identified in the vertebrate nervous system. We have determined that cultured Drosophila embryonic cells produce and secrete into medium, an activity which stimulates neurite outgrowth of embryonic chick sensory ganglia. This Drosophila activity can be blocked by antibodies to mouse NGF, indicating an immunological relationship between the Drosophila factor, mouse NGF and possibly other vertebrate neurotrophic factors. Addition of mouse NGF to Drosophila embryonic cells in culture results in increased cell number and enrichment of the neuronal phenotype, indicating that Drosophila cells have the ability to respond to the vertebrate factor. In addition, poly(A)+RNA extracted from Drosophila contains a single 1.4 Kb band which cross-hybridizes with a mouse NGF cRNA probe. These results indicate that vertebrate neurotrophic factor-like functions may operate in a genetically defined invertebrate species.