Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a survival factor required by a number of neuronal populations including most post-ganglionic sympathetic neurones. NGF has been detected and quantified in many tissues but there is little information regarding its cellular localization. Although it has been argued that histological detection has proven difficult due to the low levels of NGF present, other factors may contribute to prevent its identification. In the present study, we report a method for the histological detection of NGF-like immunoreactivity in the rat superior cervical ganglia (SCG). Adult Wistar-Kyoto rats were perfused briefly with either a high or low pH buffer prior to fixation and routine immunohistochemistry. Polyclonal antibodies to native mouse NGF used in the present study recognized mouse NGF but not recombinant human neurotrophin 3 (rhNT3) or brain-derived neurotrophic factor (rhBDNF) by immunoblot analysis. NGF-like immunoreactivity was localized to most sympathetic neurones. Immunoreactivity was detected in the cytoplasm with dense labelling around nuclei. No stain was seen in sections incubated with normal sheep IgG or from animals perfused with phosphate buffer (pH 7.4) prior to fixation. In addition, axotomy resulted in the disappearance of NGF immunoreactivity which was confirmed by biochemical quantification. Finally, no NGF immunoreactivity was found in neurones of rats treated systemically with NGF antiserum 3 days earlier. Possible mechanisms underlying the improvement of NGF immunohistochemistry by pH manipulation before fixation are discussed.