In response to axonal injury, noradrenergic sympathetic neurons of the adult superior cervical ganglion (SCG) alter their neurotransmitter phenotype. These alterations include increases in the levels of the neuropeptides, galanin, vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), and substance P (SP) and a decrease in the catecholamine biosynthetic enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). Previous studies have indicated that after axotomy in vivo, leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) plays an important role in increasing the contents of galanin and VIP in the SCG. In the present study, by examining the time courses of the changes in LIF and neuropeptide mRNA and by using LIF null mutant mice, we have determined that LIF alters neuropeptide content in part by increasing levels of peptide mRNA. In addition, LIF also makes a small contribution to the axotomy-induced down-regulation of mRNA encoding TH and neuropeptide Y, both of which are normally expressed at high levels in the SCG. Finally, by using a LIF-blocking antiserum, this cytokine was found to regulate SP expression in an in vitro axonal injury model. Thus, after axotomy, a single factor, LIF, participates in the down-regulation of peptides/proteins involved in normal neurotransmission and the up-regulation of a group of neuropeptides normally not present in the SCG that may be involved in regeneration.