Neurotrophic factors are essential to maintain and organize neurons functionally; thereby neurotrophic factor-like substances or their inducers are expected to be applied to the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. In the present study, we firstly examined the effects of ethanol extracts of four edible mushrooms, Hericium erinaceus (Yamabushitake), Pleurotus eryngii (Eringi), Grifola frondosa (Maitake), and Agaricus blazei (Himematsutake), on nerve growth factor (NGF) gene expression in 1321N1 human astrocytoma cells. Among the four mushroom extracts, only H. erinaceus extract promoted NGF mRNA expression in a concentration-dependent manner. In addition, secretion of NGF protein from 1321N1 cells was enhanced by H. erinaceus extracts, and the conditioned medium of 1321N1 cells incubated with H. erinaceus extract enhanced the neurite outgrowth of PC12 cells. However, hericenones C, D and E, constituents of H. erinaceus, failed to promote NGF gene expression in 1321N1 cells. The enhancement of NGF gene expression by H. erinaceus extracts was inhibited by the c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) inhibitor SP600125. In addition, H. erinaceus extracts induced phosphorylation of JNK and its downstream substrate c-Jun, and increased c-fos expression, suggesting that H. erinaceus promotes NGF gene expression via JNK signaling. Furthermore we examined the efficacy of H. erinaceus in vivo. ddY mice given feed containing 5% H. erinaceus dry powder for 7 d showed an increase in the level of NGF mRNA expression in the hippocampus. In conclusion, H. erinaceus contains active compounds that stimulate NGF synthesis via activation of the JNK pathway; these compounds are not hericenones.