Neuropeptides released from the cutaneous sensory nerve endings have neurotransmitter and immunoregulatory roles; they exert mitogenic actions and can influence the functions of different cell types in the skin. The aims of this study were a systematic investigation of the effects of the neuropeptides substance P (SP), calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and galanin (GAL) on the inflammatory cytokine production (IL-1alpha, IL-8 and TNF-alpha) of the keratinocytes, and a study of their role in the production and secretion of nerve growth factor (NGF) and its precursor molecule (proNGF). Cultures of normal human keratinocytes were treated with 10(-8)M SP, CGRP, VIP or GAL for 30 min. After different time intervals, cells were harvested for total RNA isolation; in addition, cell lysates and supernatants were collected. The effects of the neuropeptides on the mRNA expressions of the different cytokines and NGF were investigated by Q-RT-PCR and the protein levels were studied by means of ELISA assays and Western blotting. Each of the four neuropeptides induced increases in the expressions of IL-1alpha, IL-8 and TNF-alpha mRNA. Increases appeared in the amount of the IL-1alpha protein in the supernatants of neuropeptide-treated cells, and the IL-8 secretion was mildly elevated, while secretion of TNF-alpha remained undetectable. The four neuropeptides increased the NGF mRNA expression to different extents. In the cell lysates of the keratinocytes, only proNGF could be detected, its concentration in the neuropeptide-treated cells being approximately twice that in the time-matched controls. Both control cultures and neuropeptide-treated cultures were found to secrete proNGF and mature NGF, but neuropeptide-treated cell cultures produced markedly higher (3-7-fold) amounts of NGF-like immunoreactive materials. The results demonstrated that neuropeptides released from cutaneous nerves after an injurious stimulus are able to induce an upregulation of IL-1alpha and IL-8 production; they are additionally able to influence the expressions of proNGF/NGF and their secretion from the keratinocytes. These findings may contribute toward an understanding of the neural influence on skin health and disease.