Abstract Perinatal hypoxia is known to induce long-lasting changes in the central dopaminergic system. In order to understand the cellular mechanism of these changes, we studied the effects of hypoxia on the levels of dopamine (DA) and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) mRNA in untreated and NGF treated PC12 cells. On the second day after plating (DAP), cells were exposed to a hypoxic episode (pO 2 = 10–20 mm Hg, 24 h), and the levels of DA and TH mRNA were examined on DAP 4 and DAP 8. In untreated cells, hypoxia induced a two fold increase both in DA and TH mRNA levels on DAP 4 which normalized up to DAP 8. This increase correlated with an activation of the hypoxia inducible factor (HIF-1alpha), measured with a reporter gene. In contrast, NGF treated cells responded to hypoxia with an increase of DA level on DAP 8. In these cells neither an increase of the HIF-1 alpha activity measured immediately after hypoxia nor a significant increase of the TH mRNA level on DAP 8 were found. The findings indicate that NGF shifts the hypoxia induced changes of DA levels from a short-term to a long-term mode. The long-term increase of dopamine levels is the most likely result of changes connected with cell growth and differentiation and not the result of a long-term TH mRNA level increase.