Abstract RNase protection assay and in situ hybridization were used to analyze the temporal and cellular changes in nerve growth factor (NGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) mRNA content evoked by the lipophilic β-adrenergic receptor agonist clenbuterol in adult rat brain. Clenbuterol elicited a threefold increase in NGF mRNA expression which was limited to the cerebral cortex. This increase was maximal at 5 h, still evident by 10 h, and declined to control levels by 24 h. By 10 h NGF protein was also increased. Elevated NGF mRNA hybridization following clenbuterol was localized in the superficial cortical layers II and III in large Nissl-pale cells, suggesting that NGF mRNA induction occurs in neurons. In the same animals, clenbuterol induced a twofold increase in the levels of bFGF mRNA in cerebral cortex and hippocampus. This increase was localized primarily in glial cells as demonstrated by bFGF mRNA hybridization over all cortical regions and by labeling of the stratum lacunosum moleculare of the hippocampus. Our results suggest that enhanced noradrenergic tone regulates expression of these two trophic factors by different synaptic mechanisms and suggest that neurotransmitter(s) can coordinate trophic influences on different cell populations.