Nerve growth factor (NGF) was characterized over 4 decades ago, and like the other neurotrophins subsequently discovered, it is best known for its trophic role, including the prevention of programmed cell death in specific populations of neurones in the peripheral nervous system. This property can be accounted for by the activation of a tyrosine kinase receptor. NGF also regulates neuronal function, as illustrated by its role in pain and inflammation, and in synaptic plasticity. Finally, NGF recently was shown to activate the neurotrophin receptor p75 (p75NTR), a receptor with no intrinsic catalytic activity and with similarities to members of the tumor necrosis factor receptor family. During normal development, the activation of p75NTR by NGF actually kills cells in the central nervous system. One remarkable property of NGF is then that it controls cell numbers in opposite ways in the developing nervous system, a result of its unique ability to activate two different receptor types.