Glial-cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), neurturin and persephin are structurally related, secreted proteins that are widely expressed in the nervous system and other tissues and promote the survival of a variety of neurons during development. GDNF and neurturin signal through multicomponent receptors that consist of the Ret receptor tyrosine kinase and one of two structurally related glycosyl-phosphatidylinositol (GPI)-linked ligand-binding subunits: GFR alpha-1 is the preferred ligand-binding subunit for GDNF, and GFR alpha-2 is the preferred ligand-binding subunit for neurturin. Two additional members of the GFR alpha family of GPI-linked proteins have recently been cloned: GFR alpha-3 and GFR alpha-4. We have shown that persephin binds efficiently only to GFR alpha-4, and labelled persephin is effectively displaced from cells expressing GFR alpha-4 by persephin but not by GDNF or neurturin. Using microinjection to introduce expression plasmids into cultured neurons, we have also shown that coexpression of Ret with GFR alpha-4, confers a marked survival response to persephin but not to GDNF or neurturin. These results demonstrate that GFR alpha-4 is the ligand-binding subunit for persephin and that persephin, like GDNF and neurturin, also requires Ret for signalling.