During embryogenesis, the neurons of vertebrate sympathetic and sensory ganglia become dependent on neurotrophic factors, derived from their targets, for survival and maintenance of differentiated functions. Many of these interactions are mediated by the neurotrophins NGF, BDNF, and NT3 and the receptor tyrosine kinases encoded by genes of the trk family. Both sympathetic and sensory neurons undergo developmental changes in their responsiveness to NGF, the first neurotrophin to be identified and characterized. Subpopulations of sensory neurons do not require NGF for survival, but respond instead to BDNF or NT3 with enhanced survival. In addition to their classic effects on neuron survival, neurotrophins influence the differentiation and proliferation of neural crest-derived neuronal precursors. In both sympathetic and sensory systems, production of neurotrophins by target cells and expression of neurotrophin receptors by neurons are correlated temporally and spatially with innervation patterns. In vitro, embryonic sympathetic neurons require exposure to environmental cues, such as basic FGF and retinoic acid to acquire neurotrophin-responsiveness; in contrast, embryonic sensory neurons acquire neurotrophin-responsiveness on schedule in the absence of these molecules.