Members of the K252 family of kinase inhibitors have been demonstrated to inhibit a number of neurotrophin-mediated cellular responses, and to preferentially inhibit the activity of neurotrophin receptors. In this study, we examined the effects of K252a and K252b on the growth of human prostate carcinoma cells, whose growth is, in part, mediated by a prostatic nerve growth factor(NGF)-like protein(s). K252a inhibited [3H]thymidine incorporation by three androgen-independent prostate tumor cell lines (TSU-pr1, DU-145, and PC-3), under basal growth conditions, and in response to growth stimulation by human prostatic stromal (hPS) cell proteins and serum. K252b, which does not readily penetrate cell membranes, had no significant effect on [3H]thymidine incorporation by the prostate tumor cell lines. The decrease in [3H]thymidine incorporation by the cell lines in response to K252a did not appear to be the result of K252a cytotoxicity at concentrations as high as 100 nM, as measured by the Trypan blue assay for cell viability. Treatment of cells for 25 hours with 100 nM K252a resulted in accumulation of TSU-pr1, DU-145, and PC-3 cells in G0/G1, concurrent with a substantial decrease in cells synthesizing DNA. Treatment of androgen-responsive LNCaP prostatic carcinoma cells for 25 hours with 100 nM K252a also resulted in a significant decrease in DNA synthesis. Human recombinant NGF-mediated phosphorylation of a 140-kDa Trk NGF receptor in the TSU-pr1 cell line was inhibited by treatment with 100 nM K252a. Hence, K252a inhibition of Trk phosphorylation most probably contributed, in part, to the inhibition of prostate tumor cell growth in vitro. These results suggest that the mechanism of K252a action may be useful in the design of potential therapies for prostate cancer treatment.