The prevalence of nerve growth factor (NGF) production in different human prostatic tumor cell lines (DU145, PC-3, LNCaP-FGC) was investigated using a specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and compared to that of different human and rat prostatic tissue samples. In addition, the biological effects of NGF beta addition to the human prostatic cancer cell cultures were investigated. The ELISA technique showed the DU145 cell line to secrete measurable levels of NGF in the culture medium. When neurite-outgrowth determination in a pheochromocytoma cell line was used as a bioassay, the NGF synthesized by DU145 cells was confirmed to exhibit functional biological activity. No effect of exogenously added NGF could be established on tumor cell proliferation, on the basis of either colorimetric tetrazolium-based staining assay or bromodeoxyuridine incorporation. Also the expression of prostate specific acid phosphatase was not influenced by NGF addition. However, the in vitro invasive capacity (Matrigel) of DU145 cells was significantly increased by inclusion of 50 ng or 100 ng NGF beta/ml culture medium. In view of the clinically well-known perineural invasion of prostate cancer cells, the possible involvement of NGF as a (paracrine) factor in prostatic cancer metastatic behavior should be investigated further.