Two classes of receptors with distinct affinities for nerve growth factor (NGF) have been identified. The low affinity receptor (Kd approximately 10(-9) to 10(-8) M) is a cysteine-rich glycoprotein encoded by the previously characterized LNGFR gene. The structural nature of the high affinity receptor (Kd approximately 10(-11) to 10(-10) M) has yet to be established. In this study we show that the product of the human trk proto-oncogene (gp140trk) binds NGF with high affinity. Moreover, NGF could be chemically cross-linked to the endogenous gp140trk present in rat PC12 pheochromocytoma cells as well as to gp140trk ectopically expressed in mouse fibroblasts and in insect Sf9 cells. High affinity binding of NGF to gp140trk can occur in the absence of low affinity LNGFR receptors, at least in nonneural cells. Addition of NGF to PC12 cells elicits rapid phosphorylation of gp140trk on tyrosine residues and stimulates its tyrosine kinase activity. These results indicate that gp140trk is a functional NGF receptor that mediates at least some of the signal transduction processes initiated by this neurotrophic factor.