Neurotrophic Factors: An Overview

Methods Mol Biol. 2018:1727:1-17. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-7571-6_1.


The neurotrophins are a family of closely related proteins that were first identified as survival factors for sympathetic and sensory neurons and have since been shown to control a number of aspects of survival, development, and function of neurons in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Limiting quantities of neurotrophins during development control the numbers of surviving neurons to ensure a match between neurons and the requirement for a suitable density of target innervation. Biological effects of each of the four mammalian neurotrophins are mediated through activation of one or more of the three members of the tropomyosin-related kinase (Trk) family of receptor tyrosine kinases (TrkA, TrkB, and TrkC). In addition, all neurotrophins activate the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR), a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor superfamily. Neurotrophin engagement of Trk receptors leads to activation of Ras, phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, phospholipase C-γ1, and signaling pathways controlled through these proteins, including the mitogen-activated protein kinases. Neurotrophin availability is required into adulthood, where they control synaptic function and plasticity and sustain neuronal cell survival, morphology, and differentiation. This article will provide an overview of neurotrophin biology, their receptors, and signaling pathways.

Keywords: Brain-derived growth factor; Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor; Inflammation; Nerve growth factor; Neuroregeneration; Neurotrophic factors; Neurotrophin 4; Neurotrophin-3; Pain; Receptor tyrosine kinases; Tropomyosin-related kinase (Trk).

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Survival
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Humans
  • Nerve Growth Factors / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / metabolism*


  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor