We have characterized some of the nerve growth factor (NGF) stimulated receptor tyrosine kinase (TrkA) signalling cascades in adult rat primary dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neuronal cultures and compared the pathways with those found in PC12 cells. TrkA receptors were phosphorylated on tyrosine residues in response to NGF in DRG neuronal cultures. We also saw phosphorylation of phospholipase Cgamma1 (PLCgamma1). We used recombinant glutathione-S-transferase (GST)-PLCgamma1 SH2 domain fusion proteins to study the site of interaction of TrkA receptors with PLCgamma1. TrkA receptors derived from DRG neuronal cultures bound preferentially to the amino terminal Src homology-2 (SH2) domain of PLCgamma1, but there was enhanced binding with tandemly expressed amino- and carboxy-terminal SH2 domains. The most significant difference in NGF signalling between PC12 cells and DRG was with the Shc family of adapter proteins. Both ShcA and ShcC were expressed in DRG neurons but only ShcA was detected in PC12 cells. Different isoforms of ShcA were phosphorylated in response to NGF in DRG and PC12 cells. NGF phosphorylated only one whereas epidermal growth factor phosphorylated both isoforms of ShcC in DRG cultures. Activation of the downstream mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase, p42Erk2 was significantly greater than p44Erk1 in DRG whereas both isoforms were activated in PC12 cells. Blocking the MAP kinase cascade using a MEK1/2 inhibitor, PD98059, abrogated NGF dependent capsaicin sensitivity, a nociceptive property specific to sensory neurons.