Nerve growth factor (NGF) is important to the survival, development, and differentiation of neurons. Its action is mediated by a specific cell surface transmembrane glycoprotein, nerve growth factor receptor (NGFR). In this study, NGFR expression by human fetal and adult adrenal medullary tissue, peripheral nervous system (PNS) neuroectodermal tumors (neuroblastoma, ganglioneuroblastoma, ganglioneuroma), pediatric primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs) of the central nervous system (CNS), and CNS gliomas was examined by an immunohistochemical technique. Sixty-nine tumors in total were probed in this manner. Nerve growth factor receptor immunoreactivity was confined to nerve fibers and clusters of primitive-appearing cells in the fetal adrenal, and to nerve fibers and ganglion cells of the adult adrenal medulla; adrenal chromaffin cells were negative. In PNS neuroectodermal tumors, there was NGFR expression in tumor cells of 6 of 11 neuroblastomas and 6 of 6 ganglioneuroblastomas or ganglioneuromas. Thirteen of thirty-five CNS PNETs showed NGFR positivity. In most CNS PNETs, NGFR was restricted to scattered single or small groups of cells, but two tumors with astroglial differentiation showed much more extensive immunoreactivity. Most astrocytomas (11 of 14) and all ependymomas (3 of 3) were intensely NGFR positive.