Activation and mobilization of microglia are early events in the majority of brain pathologies. Among the signalling molecules that can affect microglial behaviour, we investigated whether nerve growth factor (NGF) was able to influence microglial motility. We found that NGF induced chemotaxis of microglial cells through the activation of TrkA receptor. In addition, NGF chemotactic activity was increased in the presence of low concentrations (< or =0.2 ng/ml) of transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), which at this concentration showed chemotactic activity per se. On the contrary, NGF-induced microglial migration was reduced in the presence of chemokinetic concentration of TGF-beta (> or =2 ng/ml). Finally, both basal and NGF-induced migratory activity of microglial cells was increased after a long-term exposure of primary mixed glial cultures to 2 ng/ml of TGF-beta. Our observations suggest that both NGF and TGF-beta contribute to microglial recruitment. The chemotactic activities of these two pleiotropic factors could be particularly relevant during chronic diseases in which recruited microglia remove apoptotic neurons in the absence of a typical inflammatory reaction.